Friday, December 18, 2009

ARMM, A Failure; Ex-Philippines Defense Chief Calls For Referendum

MANILA, Philippines - Former Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro described the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as a “systemic failure” and called for a referendum among its five provinces to determine whether the autonomous region should continue to exist as is.

“The results speak for themselves,” said Teodoro, presidential candidate of the administration’s Lakas-Kampi Christian Muslim Democrats. In a press statement, he also cited the autonomous region’s inability to control violence, a spate of kidnappings and rampant lawlessness.

Last month’s massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, the worst election-related killing in the country, was linked to the powerful Ampatuan clan, a scion of which was the recently replaced governor of ARMM.

Teodoro said that a vote in the ARMM provinces of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur might have to be called to allow stakeholders to review the region’s performance and to decide if the residents there wish the region to continue under the current setup.

“This is very controversial, but I have to say it,” he added in the statement. “We cannot allow the taxpayers to subsidize the operation of an institution that is clearly not working.”

His comments Thursday follow his visit to Buluan town in Maguindanao on Wednesday, his third trip there in as many weeks.

Let people decide

“We must ask the ARMM’s constituents whether they prefer local autonomy or to revert to national government supervision,” said Teodoro.

Established in the 1990s, the ARMM brought self-rule to the Muslim minority instead of secession, the statement said. But autonomy failed dismally to uplift lives in the country’s most depressed region, it added.

More than P12 billion in government funds have been poured into the ARMM coffers for peace and order and economic development, the statement said.

Also in the statement, Teodoro called on the government to conduct a full audit of the funds that were provided to the ARMM in order to determine whether they reached their intended users.

He said that the various sectors and groups in the ARMM must meet to decide whether the autonomous region has proven responsive to their needs.

“It is up to them [stakeholders] whether the ARMM should continue to exist or not,” Teodoro said.

He said that the ARMM should serve a lesson to the government in future decisions that would grant autonomy to any region or province in the country.

“Before granting autonomy, the government must also determine whether the territory or province petitioning for it is really capable of handling responsibilities appurtenant to being an independent entity,” Teodoro added.

Abolishing ARMM

Concerned groups in the ARMM have started calling for the abolition of the ARMM for its failure to address basic social and economic issues, widespread corruption in the local bureaucracy, and coddling by some of its officials of private armed groups.

Republic Act 9054 that created the ARMM in 1990 provides that the autonomous region “shall remain an integral and inseparable part of the national territory of the Republic.” The president of the Philippines exercises general supervision over the regional governor.

The regional government has the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges, subject to Constitutional provisions and the provisions of Republic Act 9054.

Reports showed that ARMM remains one of the most impoverished regions in the Philippines. It had a per capita regional gross domestic product of only P3,433 in 2005, more than 75 percent lower than the national average of P14,186.

GDP is the total cost of all goods and services produced in a country in a year.

The ARMM has a population of 4.1 million based on the 2007 census. It is the country’s poorest region, where average annual income was P89,000 in 2006, less than one-third of the Manila level. Poverty incidence in the region was a high 45.4 percent in 2003, almost twice the national average of 24.4 percent.

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