Mini-Marshall Plan eyed (again) for ARMM

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews/30 July) – Government is eyeing a mini-Marshall Plan for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to implement the reform roadmap for the 21-month period — from noon of September 30, 2011 to noon of June 30, 2013 – when the region will be administered by caretakers appointed by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

“We would like to establish benchmarks and baselines by August and we’re looking at the big ticket items that we need to propose,” Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo said at the roundtable discussion on the “Roadmap for Reform in the ARMM” organized by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance at the AIM Conference Center on Thursday afternoon.

“I suggested maybe we should look at some sort of a mini Marshall Plan for ARMM, meaning we inject resources initially, very significant amounts when still we can say to a certain extent we can control the bureaucracy in the ARMM,” he said.

Robredo’s suggestion drew support from Senator Teofisto Guingona III. “Something like a mini Marshall plan for ARMM is what is needed here. This is a good point and we should take this up,” he said.

“I don’t think this is in the budget yet. This is something very interesting which I will take up with the executive branch,” Guingona said.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., IAG Executive Director, said if government can spend P30 billion on the Conditional Cash Transfer program, it should be able to spend “P10 or P15 billion for reform in the ARMM.”

Mercado told MindaNews on Friday that the President “seems dead serious about ARMM reform” and that “additional budget is crucial” to push those reforms.

But Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told MindaNews in a text message Saturday afternoon that there is “no need for a special appropriations to accommodate the rehab and reform program for ARMM, especially basic services, basic infra and livelihood/industrial development.”

“There is enough space in the budgets of national agencies to accommodate the funding requirement. But first, the ARMM reform roadmap has to be drawn up and approved by the Cabinet and the President. The real challenge I see is absorption and execution. A strong ARMM-NG-ODA (National Government-Official Developmeng Assistance) collaboration is needed especially to build capacity and ensure transparent and accountable governance, within the framework of promoting meaningful autonomy,” Abad said.

Not the first time

The Marshall Plan or the European Recovery Program, was US program from 1948 to 1952 to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II to combat the spread of Soviet communism. The Initiative was named after US Secretary of State George Marshall.

This is not the first time the Philippine government dangled a mini-Marshall Plan for the ARMM. Almost every Presidential administration since the ARMM was set up in 1990, had.

The last time a mini-Marshall Plan was proposed for the ARMM was in late August 2008, following the outbreak of hostilities after the aborted signing on August 5 of the Government’s and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

Former House Speaker Jose de Venecia, who was Pangasinan representative to Congress in 2008, proposed a P50-billion mini-Marshall Plan to end the conflict.

“The mini-Marshall plan is a powerful affirmative action to implement the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the main secessionist Islamist force, and put a stop to the war in Mindanao,” he said. “This is without need to amend the Constitution and without need to create a federal state for Muslims,” de Venecia said in a Manila Bulletin report on August 22, 2008.

De Venecia said the mini-Marshall plan should be for the MNLF, MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), Lumad (indigenous peoples) and settlers to fight hunger, poverty and injustice.

He said under the plan, irrigation systems, hospitals, markets and halal meat processing plants would be built; agriculture and fisheries modernized; tourism promoted; universities all over Mindanao expanded; Grameen-type microfinance cooperatives created, and other vital infrastructure built.

A year earlier, De Venecia, then House Speaker, also proposed a mini-Marshall Plan for Mindanao to set the stage for the revival of the Government-MILF peace talks that went on impasse in the latter part of 2006.

An Inquirer report on August 17, 2007 quoted De Venecia as saying the Plan would involve mobilizing $1 billion for “economic action programs” in the conflict-affected region through donations coming from the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, European Union countries, and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

He said Congress was prepared to provide from $300 million to $500 million in counterpart funds.

The report also quoted de Venecia as saying: “If the government can spend $1 billion to put up a power plant, why can’t we spend $1 billion to end Muslim insurgency?”

Promises, Promises

At the start of the Arroyo Presidency in 2001, a Philippine Star article dated June 12, 2001, quoted then Local Governments Secretary Jose Lina as saying that the DILG was considering the implementation of a mini-Marshall plan for Mindanao to speed up the rehabilitation of areas ravaged by conflict and criminal activities of extremist groups.

A year earlier, in 2000, then President Joseph Estrada waged an “all-out war” against the MILF, displacing nearly a million residents in several provinces, among them Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte.

Lina said the mini-Marshall plan would be part of the Arroyo administration’s comprehensive and sustained development and security program for local government units (LGUs) in the conflict areas.

“This is what we need. Hindi puwede and tagpi-tagping solusyon (We do not need a piecemeal solution),” he said.

The report said that under the Plan, development funds would be poured to fast-track economic development projects in these areas, Lina said.

That was June 2001.

In April 2003, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo launched the Mindanao National Initiative or “Mindanao Natin,” her administration’s version of a mini-Marshall Plan, which set to earmark P5.5 billion in government funds and US$1.3 billion in ODA funds for the next three to five years.

The socio-economic package would be carried out in 5,000 villages in Mindanao, including the ARMM.

The year 2003 was a pre-election year. It was also the year the Arroyo administration did an Estrada, though not on the same scale as the “all-out war” of 2000, by launching a military offensive against the MILF in February. The aerial and ground attacks were launched, ironically, a day after her government peace panel, led by Jesus Dureza, presented its draft final peace agreement with the MILF, to Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, and President Arroyo through her Executive Secretary, Alberto Romulo.

Nearly half a million persons were displaced by that war.

Eduardo Tadem, in a paper titled “Development and Distress in Mindanao: A Political Economy Overview,” said “the figures as of December 2006 show that not all of the announced projects (of Mindanao Natin) got off the ground. For example, the World Bank’s commitment of US$279 million for four projects was eventually pared down to one project worth only US$34 million.”

Nur Misuari, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front who signed the Tripoli Agreement with the Government on December 23, 1976 and the Final Peace Agreement on September 2, 1996, was also promised a mini-Marshall Plan.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s EDSA 20/20 report quoted Misuari as saying, “They promised me P45 billion as initial input for a ‘mini-Marshall Plan.’ But in the first year, I wasn’t given a single cent for development.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)