MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 28, 2010) – An influential Philippine governor has urged President Benigno Aquino to abolish the five-province Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao for its failure to address widespread poverty among other problems since its creation more than two decades ago.
Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, (D Hum) in a letter sent to President Benigno Aquino, said the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao also failed to bring developments to the impoverished provinces and fulfill the aspirations of its peoples.
“The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao continues to fail our people. Supposed to be an embodiment of our collective interest and aspiration, the ARMM Regional Government has ably presented itself as a classic example of a pathetic and useless tier in government. More than 3/5 of its budget is for personnel services – only to pay for its officials and employees. It failed to enhance agriculture, fisheries and trade. It is helpless in containing crimes and lawlessness. Education, health and social services continue to degenerate,” Tan wrote in a letter he sent to President Benigno Aquino III.
“His Excellency, Mr. President, the ARMM must double its efforts to move forward if only not to be left behind again and anew as the other regions surge forward. We cannot actively participate as equals in the dialogues of the various communities of Mindanao while our house is in shambles. We have to make the ARMM work,” he said.
The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or ARMM was first created on August 1, 1989 through Republic Act No. 6734 otherwise known as the Organic Act in pursuance with a constitutional mandate to provide for an autonomous area in Muslim Mindanao.
A plebiscite was held in the provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Palawan, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur; and the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa and Zamboanga to determined if residents would want to be part of the ARMM.
Of the areas where the plebiscites were held only Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Sulu, Tawi-Tawi voted favorably for inclusion in the new autonomous region. The ARMM was officially inaugurated on November 6, 1990 in Cotabato City, which was designated as its provisional capital.
In 2001, a new law was passed for the expansion of the Muslim autonomous region to include the areas which initially rejected inclusion and the provinces which were carved from them, however only Marawi and Basilan, with the exception of Isabela City opted to be integrated in the ARMM.
And now, former President Gloria Arroyo and now congresswoman of Pampanga province has filed House Bill No. 173 dividing the ARMM into two regions.
“His Excellency, Mr. President, it has almost been 35 years since the Tripoli Agreement and 15 years since the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has been there for the last 22 years. Peace, public order and development continue to elude us. Our people remain poor. Our communities continue to be distraught by lawless violence,” Tan said in his letter.
Tan said the proposal of Arroyo is again fomenting discord. He said Arroyo had failed during her administration to deliver the commitments of the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front rebels and almost caused a civil war two years ago by the forging of the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels.
“Such proposal may provide politicians extra window for positioning. However, it does not address the sustained crisis in governance which continues to afflict our people and region. It is high time that we take the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the task. It is already opportune to put the house in order,” Tan said.
He said the Oversight Committee for ARMM and the Department of Interior and Local Government must actively supervise the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The ARMM has put forward bases, justifications and targets when it submitted its operational budget for congressional funding.
The same, Tan added, must be reviewed and assessed whether these have been met and attained. “The relevance and performance of the offices and functions devolved to the ARMM must be also reconsidered. While we require both local government units and national government agencies to be prudent in fiscal management, the ARMM must also illustrate how well programmed and spent were each centavo the central government has provided it.”
“Due to the widespread discontent amongst the constituents and local officials in the region, there is a clamor for the abolishment of ARMM and revert the region back into the mainstream national system. We support this clamor of the people while taking cognizance of the legalities that have to be hurdled to realize it,” Tan said.
But regional elections in the Muslim autonomous region are scheduled next year and Tan fears politicians will soon start to jockey and seek Aquino’s attention and endorsement.
The Regional Governor and Regional Vice Governor are elected directly like regular local executives. Regional ordinances are created by the Regional Assembly, composed of Assemblymen, also elected by direct vote. Regional elections are usually held one year after general elections depending on what legislation from the Philippine Congress. Regional officials have a fixed term of three years, which can be extended by an act of Congress.
Tan said it may prove more cost-efficient to forego the elections in 2011 and hold the regional elections synchronized with the national and local elections in 2013, if not 2016.
He also proposed the following: “In as much only those favored by Malacanang get to be elected Regional Governor and Vice Governor traditionally, the officials in ARMM should simply be appointed and be directly held accountable by the Central Government.”
“The officials who shall so be appointed as Regional Governor, Regional Vice Governor and members of the Regional Legislative Assembly must be bound with a concrete action program to rehabilitated and develop the autonomous regional government. The two to five years should prove more than sufficient for organizational and institutional rehabilitation and development. It also need not be emphasized that the very people who shall be designated regional governor, regional vice governor and members of the Regional Legislative Assembly be competent enough to perform the functions inherent in their respective office.”
“In as much as the ARMM is both a major expense item of the central government as well as the poorest and most challenged region in the country, it may also prove prudent that His Excellency, the President, appoint a Presidential Adviser or Presidential Assistant for the ARMM who shall coordinate the institutional rehabilitation of the Autonomous Regional Government as well as coordinate all initiatives and public sector investments in the autonomous region. Such Presidential Adviser or Presidential Assistant shall ensure that the entire autonomous region is working soundly and is producing results and that the general welfare of the people is promoted and enhanced.”
Copies of the August 20 letter were also sent to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the Senate President; Representative Feliciano Belmonte, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. (Mindanao Examiner)