PNoy admits slow implementation of “stimulus fund” projects for ARMM

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 June) – “Not yet started” or  “ongoing”

That is the status of most of the projects funded under the P8.59 billion “stimulus fund”  for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as of May 31, President Benigno Simeon Aquino told  regional, provincial,  municipal and city officials of the ARMM at the closing of the two-day Convention on Governance at the Waterfront Insular Hotel on Wednesday.

Aquino said he wanted to announce good news about the projects that were supposed to have started in October 2011, but  he had no accomplishments to cite as most of the projects had not been started or are still ongoing.

The projects are supposed to have been completed by June 30, 2013 when the ARMM’s Officers-in-Charge appointed by President Aquino  end their stay in office.

“Gusto ko ho sanang maibalita sa inyo ‘yung mga accomplishments. Pero dito po sa status, as of May 31, 2012, ang napakarami po dito ay ‘not yet started’ o ‘ongoing,’” the President said.

He promised to meet immediately with the Cabinet secretaries involved in the  P8.9 billion “Transition Investment Support Plan (TISP), to demand an explanation and to remind them of their “use it or lose it” policy in the Aquino Cabinet.

He said if the department is slow in using the funds, he will transfer it to agencies that are performing well. When the slow-performers ask for budget next year, he said they must explain well why it took them so long to use the funds that they asked for at the start.

The President said he wants to fulfill the promises he makes because his father taught him the value of keeping one’s word, no matter the difficulties.

“Gusto ko pong matupad ang pinangako ko—tinuro po sa akin ng aking ama—’pag nagbitaw ka ng salita, kailangan panindigan mo ‘to, mahirap o madali,’” he said.

He cited as an example the Department of Energy whose P200 million rural electrification program in the ARMM is set for completion by October 2012.  “This is good because there is a due date,” he said in Pilipino.

He reminded department heads with “not yet started” projects that it is nearly the end of the second quarter.

Among the projects  funded under the “stimulus fund”  are potable water supply for 77 towns in the region.

An initial assessment, he said, has been done in five towns in Basilan, 21 in Lanao del Sur, 34 in Maguindanao, eight in Sulu and nine in Tawi-tawi.

The ARMM has 116 towns and two cities in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.

He said the “stimulus fund” or the TISP, initially referred to as “min-Marshall plan” by some Cabinet officials, also includes construction of health centers, core shelter assistance for families in conflict-affected areas, farm-to-market roads, rehabilitation  of roads and bridges.

In  his column posted on GMA News online on June 14,  Fr Eliseo Mercado, Jr., executive director of the Cotabato City-based  Institute of Autonomy and Governance,  said the “stimulus fund” is “fast turning to (be) yet another joke about autonomy!”

Mercado said that the President appointed officers-in-charge for the ARMM but “nowhere does ARMM appear in the configuration of the said Fund except for the fact that the whole Stimulus Fund is designed for the ARMM and the beneficiaries of the ‘goods’ are the constituents of the ARMM.”

He noted  the Fund, is not really new because  it is from savings  of national government agencies (NGAs)  in 2010 that were intended for the ARMM but repackaged as an immediate “doable” and  “deliverable” in 2011.

The NGAs, he said, “continue to wield control over their ‘money’ both in the determination of the projects and in their actual implementation.”

In the reporting of workshop results on Tuesday evening and in the open forum Wednesday  morning with Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, a frequent complaint by ARMM ‘s chief executives was that projects under the “stimulus fund” were not identified by them or consulted with them.

Mercado recalled the “mini Marshall Plan” government promised the Moro National Liberation Front after the signing of  the 1996 peace pact which “stayed largely on paper” because of the “usual bureaucratic mill and projects were undertaken by piecemeal, resulting in dismal failure!”

Mercado said the same thing is happening now. “We have not really learned the lessons from past failures and we love to repeat them over and over again,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)