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Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and its Absurdities

By Atty. Algamar A. Latiph


September 14, 2010

With the selection of new members of the peace panels for the Government
of the Republic of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the
peace process now start afresh. Returning to the table and mapping out the
road to peace is the only option available. Neither party would choose
military option.

The Aquino administration, likewise, put Autonomous Region in Muslim


Mindanao on its radar screen this was its pronouncement during the Eidl Fitr
Dinner in Malacanang last September 14, 2010.

Backed by a popular mandate and with a slogan of anti-corruption,


accountability and good governance, a unique opportunity was created for
the people of ARMM. It is, thus, now left to the Aquino government to face
the challenge and seize the moment.

The ARMM is confronted with so many issues and it is waiting for a more
creative alternative to face them. Despite its nearly two decades existence, the
region is the worst practically in all the indicators of Human Development
Index. Is the problem attributable the ARMM as an organization or the people
running it?

The Constitution espouses decentralization of powers as the structural


relations between the national government and local government units. This
decentralization policy should be construed to exclude ARMM inasmuch as
there should be only one autonomous entity within the region of ARMM. To
rule otherwise would bring an absurd situation where we have an
autonomous region, the ARMM, governing various autonomous LGUs.

Incidentally, the autonomous power of LGUs is provided for under the


Local Government Code. When this law was enacted there was no ARMM
yet. But when ARMM was legislated and, thereafter, revised, there was no
effort to, accordingly, amend and harmonize the LGC in favor of ARMM as
the sole autonomous entity within the region.

Consequently, we have this ARMM and LGUs structural defect making


the former impotent to discharge its mandate. But this, of course, would
depend on the people who will run the ARMM.

The problem of accountability besets ARMM. The latter is a new creature


unlike the LGUs and other structures of the government. Like, an infant
ARMM needs proper parental guidance. When it was formed, accountability
oversights are already in place to discipline it during its formative stage.
Thus, we have the Office of the Ombudsman and Civil Service Commission
(on disciplining bodies), Commission on Audit (on public fund and
properties), and Congress (on budget). Unfortunately, these institutions have
yet to assert, effectively, its constitutional duty in overseeing the performance
of ARMM.
We also have the President with direct supervision of ARMM and, more
importantly, the latter can withhold the budget of ARMM. But previous
Presidents were careless in the affairs of ARMM to the extent that it resulted
to the “57 Massacre” where one of the accused was the incumbent ARMM
Governor and elective officials of LGUs.

It is also noted that the most elective officials of ARMM owe their public
office from Malacanang bright about by the latter intervention in anointing
the ARMM public officials. The election, therefore, became irrelevant despite
of the precept that the all powers of the government emanate from the
electorate. Of course, elections were held but we all know that the ticket line-
up to the Regional Governor candidate gets nearly all the positions.

There is also constitutional issue that may be raised against ARMM


election since it is not synchronized with the national and local elections. The
Congress may repair the defect by enacting law to conform to the
Constitution or by judicial action should a petition prosper before the
Supreme Court.

The ARMM election being isolated from the synchronized national and
local elections had made it vulnerable from political intervention by
Malacanang.

Second, ARMM has the high incidence of election-related violence.


Ironically, it has an average of one election every year. This would mean that
people in the region are too saturated by violence and vulnerability. Needless
to mention that it hosts more than 75 percent of the private armies, the Abu
Sayyaf Group, rido (family feud), and armed conflict between GRP and MILF.

With these structural legal issues as well as passive institutional


accountability mechanism, the Aquino Administration can choose to repeat
the previous regime or be truthful to its promises. On this question alone, the
ARMM is hopeful but its expectation is not that high. This is so, so that
frustration will not be that high also.