Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GAA "punitive" provision imperils ARMM operations

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 23, 2010) - The new officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are calling for an urgent veto of what they lamented as "grossly punitive" provision in this year's General Appropriations Act governing fund releases to the ARMM governance.

Unless saved by a Presidential veto this week, the ARMM operations are in peril of being paralyzed, officials led by acting ARMM Governor Ansaruddin Adiong disclosed in vehemence.

"I humbly implore for an audience anytime this week to bring out personally our grave concern before said flaw becomes irreversible," Adiong stressed in his letter to the President Gloria Arroyo on Monday - five days before the mandate of GAA provisions take effect on February 27.

Adiong was referring to Special Provision No. 2 on the ARMM budget on Page 881 of GAA 2010, which states that "no subsequent release shall be made unless previous funds released to the ARMM were audited by a special audit team based in Manila and designated for the purpose."

The same provision slates that "any disbursement that not been liquidated, audited and/or disallowed by the special audit team shall be deducted from subsequent releases for the ARMM from this year's GAA."

The 24-member Regional Legislative Assembly of the ARMM and the five provincial governments under the Muslim autonomous region - Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur - have prepared separate manifestations protesting the GAA provision, which they described as an affront to the wisdom of installing the Adiong regime purportedly to reform the regional governance.

The Arroyo administration has detained and indicted ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan in connection with the November 23, 2009 massacre of 57 people, including 31 journalists, in Maguindanao province. It also ordered a special audit of the fund disbursements of the suspended leadership on suspicion of alleged graft.

"At a time when ARMM needs to rebuild its image from accusations of graft, inefficiency and violence, the budget restriction will severely affect our efforts to implement strategic regional infrastructures and basic social services that, aside from improving the lot of our people, would prove that ARMM remains as a relevant, functional and beneficial politico-administrative unit," a draft of an RLA resolution said.

The draft resolution said the RLA members are collectively opposed to such provision and earnestly appealing to President Arroyo to veto it.

This year's GAA earmarks P9.2-billion budget for ARMM. The amount covers some 70 percent share for personnel services, 25 percent maintenance and operating expense funds and P850-million capital outlay.

"The ARMM's 2010 budget constitutes less than 1% of the national budget, but the new regional leadership has vowed to utilize it to the optimum benefit of its constituents under the principles on transparent, consultative and moral governance," ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo said.

The provincial governments of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are equally alarmed of the stringent budget provision because they stand to share P150-million each for vital infra projects while the regional government would share only P100-million for similar projects, records said.

Unless timely vetoed, the budgetary "law" would do a "collective punishment" against all the workforces and constituents of the regional governance, said Sinarimbo, who is a noted lawyer.

He said the budget provision is unwarranted because there is no certainty in the length of period the audit on the Ampatuan administration's expenditures would be completed.

"While all well-meaning people of ARMM support the comprehensive audit on past fund releases and the prosecution of officials culpable of misdemeanors, we should not be held hostage to its proceedings and outcome," he said.

Analyst Raymundo Pelaez berated as illogical the interpolation of the stiff provision into the GAA because while it "appeared serious to sanction people suspected of wrong doings, it squeezes the necks of new leaders the national government installed to institute reforms."

"In ARMM, more often than not, investigations or comprehensive fund audits are synonymous to infinity. Therefore, holding the new ARMM regime solely dependent on the result of the audit of fund disbursements they have nothing to do with, is a virtual act of sabotage," Pelaez said. (Ali Macabalang)

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