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ARMM takes a bow, ends on a high note

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By Amir Mawallil

BY the first quarter of 2019, the regional government we now call the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will cease to exist following a referendum in January.

In its place will rise a new regional juridical entity that will be called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

BARMM is the result of decades of armed and peaceful struggle by the Bangsamoro for self-determination. With good governance, as well as full support from the national government, this new regional entity should be able to fulfill most — if not all — of the goals the Bangsamoro has fought so hard and so long to gain.

The existing ARMM was created in August 1989 under Republic Act No. 6734 during the Cory Aquino administration. Following the law’s 2001 revision, its coverage now includes the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, as well as the cities of Marawi (Lanao del Sur) and Lamitan (Basilan). According to records, the region’s population was 3.78 million in 2015, a population that grows at a rate of 2.89% annually.

Before ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman took the helm of the regional government in December 2011, the following served as the region’s chief executives: Zacaria Candao (1990-93); Lininding Pangandaman (1993-1996); Nur Misuari (1996-2001); Alvarez Isnaji (2001); Parouk Hussin (2001-2005); Zaldy Ampatuan (2005-2009); and Ansaruddin Adiong (2009-11).

While the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) signed by President Duterte in July means ARMM’s demise, ARMM functionaries led by Hataman pushed consistently for the passage of the BOL and the creation of the BARMM.

“It will help end the decades-long armed conflict and violence in the region,” Hataman said during a gathering in Cotabato City in August.

The good governor and his team said the ARMM has its faults and limitations: in 29 years of existence, it was only in recent years that good governance and socioeconomic milestones were achieved.

The capacity for more consistent progress was compounded further by major peace-and-order problems in recent years. These conflicts were fueled by historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro — and they prevented both public and private investments from flowing freely into the region. This resulted in a development imbalance between Moro and non-Moro provinces in Mindanao that widened perennially.

Under Hataman, the regional government started getting its house in order in 2012. It crafted a massive and strategic development plan for the entire region. The ARMM also set up databases and institutionalized data-banking for its line agencies — all unprecedented moves. Before Hataman, there were no clear lines or databases of information on the regional government’s policy decisions, and expenditures or development plans. There was no definite archive of documents upon which we could base future actions and decisions.

This initiative of setting up institutional systems within the bureaucracy earned the ARMM its first International Standardization Organization (ISO) certification in 2016. Earning an ISO certification meant the regional government reached international standards and requirements for its management systems. The scope of the certification included the provision of completed staff work for the governor’s issuances and engagements.

This observation that the ARMM’s improved governance makes a positive socioeconomic impact in areas within its jurisdiction is supported by hard and reliable data. These changes under Hataman’s stewardship were achieved despite major challenges the whole region struggled with in the recent years — from the Mamasapano clash in January 2015 to the Marawi Siege in May 2017.

Gov. Hataman recognized ARMM’s weaknesses and pushed for three reform pillars: good governance, peace and security, and socioeconomic development.

In terms of good governance, the ARMM’s drive to promote efficiency and effective administration among its local government units yielded significant results. Last year, 19 municipalities and one city in the region were conferred the Seal of Good Local Governance, under a program of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

This year, 23 local government units (LGUs) in the region were conferred the 2018 Seal of Good Local Governance.

The ARMM also has the most number of local government passers among Mindanao’s regions. It should be noted that, in 2015, not one LGU in the region passed the Seal’s criteria. In 2016, only six of over a hundred LGUs in ARMM were given similar recognition.

Recognized by DILG through the Seal of Good Housekeeping Award in 2010, the ARMM continues to raise the bar of accountability and transparency for local government executives. The DILG conferred the award after a thorough assessment of LGUs’ performance, especially in four core areas: financial administration, disaster-preparedness, social protection, and peace and order.

Another major breakthrough of the Hataman administration was the establishment of the Regional Human Rights Commission. This came to fruition after more than 20 years of ARMM’s existence. This milestone is critical, especially in a region that was known for many human rights abuses in the past.

When Hataman took his oath as caretaker in charge of the ARMM in December 2011, one of the things the Department of Education’s Central Office commended the ARMM for was the regional government’s continuing data cleansing process that resulted in the delisting of hundreds of thousands of “ghost learners.” Many of these ghosts were literal ones.

Ghost employees are “employees” whose names are recorded on the payroll system. They do not actually work for the institutions in which they supposedly belong. These ghosts can either be real people who, knowingly or not, are placed on the government’s payroll despite their lack of involvement in the day-to-day business of governance. And more often than not, these fictitious people are also invented by dishonest employees.

Hataman took the lead in the ARMM, a region haunted not just by the burdens of its past, but also by the ghosts that gained a foothold in the region’s deeply rooted system of graft and corruption — a system Hataman sought to change.

ARMM has also been commended by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) on the settlement of more than P2 billion in accounts payable that burdened most of the region’s teachers — this was a burden for teachers in the region for years prior to Hataman’s assumption as OIC governor.

The region’s latest economic indicators, which were made available early this year, are impressive. For instance, its gross regional domestic product (GRDP) grew by 7.3% in 2017 from a dismal 0.3% in 2016.

Last year’s performance showed the highest growth rate achieved in the region’s history. It even surpassed the national growth rate estimated at 6.7% for the same period.

Statistics showed that the agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing sectors were the main contributors to the region’s record-breaking GRDP performance. That sector registered 15.5% growth in 2017 from a mere 4.3% in 2016. ARMM is predominantly agricultural, with a 56.4% share in the region’s economy.

Even as fighting in Marawi started in the second quarter of 2017, investment in ARMM kept growing, with P3.65 billion in total commitment in the first half of that year. The figures reported by the Regional Board of Investments were higher by almost 74%, compared to 2016’s total registration of P2.1 billion.

The ARMM, in the last seven years of the Hataman administration, has recorded more than P20-billion registered investments that generated thousands of jobs. These occurred through government initiatives that not only created jobs but ensured fair wages. The betterment of the people of the Bangsamoro region has been made by the ARMM through large-scale job creation and assured job security. Better investments within the ARMM revitalizes the region and makes an important contribution to the national economy as well.

Hataman said in his last public address on Dec. 19 that with the BOL, the Bangsamoro government will have more freedom to decide on vital matters for itself. This, in turn, will speed up service delivery and the implementation of projects. The BOL is the strongest symbol of triumph for the peace process. If the BOL is ratified, the Bangsamoro can close an old chapter of conflict and division.

Yes, the ARMM is closing its last chapter in the Bangsamoro region. But it is bowing out on a high note, with many good lessons and gains to turn over as both legacy and gift to the BARMM, which can and should build on this strong foundation.

This will send a clear message across the nation and the world: the strife in Mindanao is over. The Bangsamoro are fully prepared and eager to face a more prosperous future.

 

Amir Mawallil, a former Mindanao correspondent of BusinessWorld, is the director of the public information office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.