The Bangsamoro Dream (2): “Guberno a sarwang” (alien government)

nd of a series

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/08 September) –  The supposed grant of autonomy by the first Aquino administration to what would be the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) mandated by the 1987 Constitution  preceded the Local Governments Act of 1991,  its first set of officials under Zacaria Candao elected in 1990.

Twenty-one years later, the second Aquino administration would brand the ARMM a “failed experiment” and propose yet another experiment as a “solution”:  the postponement of the August 8, 2011 elections to synchronize it with the May 13, 2013 polls and appointment of  officers in charge in the interim, to institute reforms.

“The President is proposing major reforms to address the causes of rebellion and hopelessness in ARMM,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing in Malacanang on February 15.

The ARMM, he said, “is a failed experiment in terms of the aspirations of the Filipino people to give justice to our Muslim brothers,” he said.

Whose aspirations?

Before the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari signed its “Final Peace Agreement” with the government on September 2, 1996 and Misuari’s election as governor a week later,  it repeatedly said the ARMM was a “bogus autonomy” as it did not represent the aspirations of the Moro people’s right to self-determination.

The MNLF, however, eventually agreed, in the culminating stage of its 1992-1996 peace negotiations under the Ramos administration, to use the ARMM as platform to implement the 1996 peace pact. Malacanang moved heaven and earth to get Misuari elected as governor. It backed his candidacy, forcing his supposed opponent to withdraw from the race, thus assuring Misuari victory even before the balloting.

The government’s peace package – also a “three for one” – was the ARMM under the MNLF, the creation of a Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and an 81-member Consultative Assembly — which would, supposedly by the end of the term of then president Fidel Ramos in 1998 – have had evolved into an expanded and empowered autonomous region with the incorporation of the 1996 peace agreement provisions into what would be the amendment to RA 6734, the Organic Act passed in 1989.

Misuari’s term would have ended in 1999 but he continued as ARMM governor on holdover capacity until his arrest off Sabah in November 2011, for alleged illegal entry a few days before the election of his successor (Parouk Hussein, the MNLF Foreign Affairs chief) and shortly after he allegedly led a revolt in Sulu and Cabatangan, Zamboanga City.

Already suffering from criticisms of being an absentee governor and an inefficient administrator (he was ARMM Governor, SPCPD chair and CA chair), Misuari’s holdover stay was extended several times because Congress was unable to pass the amendatory law.

But from 1996 to 2001 when he was governor, Misuari was at the helm of  what the MNLF, pre-peace agreement, described as “bogus autonomy” under RA 6734. The autonomy the MNLF fought for in the 1996 peace pact was not immediately acted upon by Congress and when it did through RA 9054 in 2001, rendered the autonomous region, in the words of the MNLF leaders then, “less autonomous than it already was under RA 6734.”

Even the supposed executive doables in the peace pact – such as representation of the Bangsamoro in the Cabinet, in the national government, in government-controlled corporations – have remained executive doables 15 years after the signing of the 1996 peace agreement. Not surprisingly, demands for representation are still on the table in the ongoing GPH-MILF talks.

In the ARMM Peace Summit in September 2010, Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema, Misuari’s secretary-general in the MNLF then and now chair of one of its factions, referred to the autonomy in the present ARMM as “bogus,” saying RA 9054 did not incorporate the 1996 peace pact’s provisions on “shreds of sovereign powers such as taxation, independent electoral system, fiscal autonomy, effective regional security force, and right to explore and exploit natural resources.”

The peace negotiations with the MILF which started with informal talks in Cagayan de Oro between then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres and MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar a full month before the 1996 signing of the peace pact with the MNLF, continued until its collapse during the “all-out war” of the Estrada administration in 2000.

When the Arroyo administration took over in January 2001, it waged an “all-out peace” but two wars – in 2003 and 2008 – occurred,  the agreement on ancestral domain  was declared unconstitutional and at the end of nine years in office, no peace agreement was forged.

“Transforming” the ARMM

Now the second Aquino administration is offering a “three for one” solution that the MILF peace panel has rejected. Part of this “solution” is to “transform” the ARMM.

ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo, who has been advocating a paradigm shift since he assumed the post in December 2009 says the ARMM “must be viewed and must be (transformed) not merely as extension of the national government in the delivery of basic services but also into a legitimate and legal platform for expressing and asserting the right to self determination.”

He cited 12 “structural/institutional challenges” that the ARMM faces and while these challenges include the internal problem of “poor quality of regional legislation/legislators,” the rest are in relation to the restrictive nature of the ARMM structure itself and national government’s policies and attitude towards the autonomous region. He said the ARMM experience on autonomy is hampered by, among others, the lack of fiscal autonomy, micro management of the Department of Budget and Management, intrusion of national government agencies and other regions in implementation of projects in the ARMM, lack of understanding and inconsistent national policy on autonomy, autonomy becoming a standard alibi for national government’s denial of ARMM’s access to funds.

Sinarimbo said government  “must find identification with the legitimate aspirations of its  people otherwise it will continue to be viewed as an instrument of neo-colonialism and remain alienated from its people.”

Sinarimbo, who is in his late 30s, said that what he has been hearing from the communities since he was a young boy is that “the autonomous region is a unilateral move on the part of (national) government and therefore it is characterized as guberno a sarwang (literally a foreign government; a government not of their own).”

“Our people can never find identification with it so how do you implement programs when your people cannot find identification with it because it is tainted with prejudice and with the venom that it is merely an extension of the national government? I think this government will have to find identification with these people and this identification cannot come if the central government continues to impose its will on the regional government. It cannot be done. We cannot change their view if we continue to manage it from the Palace by the river.  It is a sad story I tell you. Unless we are able to shift that paradigm, it will not come,” he told the Tapatan sa ARMM on August 31.

“If we do not give a platform for the assertions and expressions for self-determination, we force a lot of moderate Muslims into the radical alternative, into the extreme alternative. I don’t want that to happen. This republic cannot move on. It cannot develop unless we resolve the issue,” he said, adding, “I am frustrated. I am really frustrated with the attitude of the national government but I wanted to cling to the belief that we can change that perception and that we can change that attitude from the central government. I could have easily joined Umra Kato. Plus the frustrations that I am getting from bending to the central government. It’s not difficult for me to be finding myself on the other side of the fence. But I wanted to cling on to that with the hope that indeed we can shift into this paradigm and that government is willing to accommodate this one.”

“Unless we find that balance, unless we allow that democratic space, I think the time would come when most moderate Muslims would no longer be in this room but in the forest. I hate for that day to come. This republic will have to find the balance. And I think it is important that we communicate that clearly to the central government so that they understand,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)
[Tomorrow: 21 years of ARMM, 32 years of autonomy experimentation]

[Yesterday: The Bangsamoro Dream (1): Why offer a “failed experiment” as platform for peace?]