By Raïssa Robles
The idea of giving Filipino Muslims the right to govern themselves through the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has failed miserably. ARMM is the fruit of the 1996 peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)
The only way to fix ARMM is to postpone elections of its officials this year; conclude the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with speed; and get the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the growing Christian population on board the peace process.
Inevitably, any resulting peace pact with the MILF will involve, among others, giving the group a big say in running the ARMM.
ARMM was the fruit of the 1996 government peace pact with the MNLF. I will not go into details here why the ARMM went horribly wrong. So wrong that followers of its top official, Nur Misuari, went on a killing rampage when he lost power. So wrong that his replacement, Zaldy Ampatuan, is now in jail, accused of having a hand in murdering dozens of people.
Holding elections now will tie government hands in the ongoing peace process. If ARMM officials are elected this year, they will legally have a term of office lasting three years. All of them will naturally refuse to cut short their term just to accommodate a peace settlement.
There is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about postponing ARMM elections and allowing the President to appoint its officials temporarily as long as Congress enacts a law to effect this.
Metro Manila has a stake in ARMM’s success
Sure, Mindanao is quite far from Manila but the stock market in Manila crashes whenever a bomb explodes there. And at times, Muslim rebels bring their rage to Manila.
The simmering conflict in the south has prevented the country from developing and prospering as much as its Asian neighbors. For God’s sake, we are the only Asian country with two internal conflicts and two groups named in the world terrorist watch list.
A lot of refugees from the simmering Mindanao conflict are crowding in Metro Manila.
Finally, it’s also all about justice. A real war consumed Mindanao right after President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. A war with tanks and cannons, and bombs dropping on the civilian population. Somewhat like what’s happening in Libya right now.
But we, in Metro Manila, were unaware of this because all the TV stations and newspapers were either shut down or taken over by Marcos’ propagandists.
Mindanao residents appeal to Senators to postpone ARMM polls
In the interest of our children’s future, I am reprinting below an appeal to the Senate to postpone ARMM elections from a wide cross-section of Filipinos residing in the Muslim south. It was sent to me by Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a writer and young law graduate from Marawi City:
We, travelling from the Southern parts of Mindanao, humbly visit the Upper Chamber on a matter of great urgency to our people – the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) (Senate Bill 2756, a certified urgent bill as endorsed by the LEDAC) – since P2.5 billion will be spent on another elections to be conducted in ARMM this August which will be the 4th since May 10, 2010 elections. The same billions could be spent for building schools and hospitals and pay unpaid remittances of teachers in ARMM;
We affirm the move to postpone elections in ARMM now and synchronize it to the 2013 national and local elections is an urgent legislative measure now that the Senate’s role as an impeachment tribunal has become moot with the resignation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez;
We affirm that it is of national interest to introduce reforms in ARMM, the poorest region in the country with lowest human development indicators;
We believe that the true test of genuine autonomy and democracy is if its fruits are harvested by the greater majority of the Bangsamoro. Unfortunately, it cannot be said so of the present ARMM. Those who are reaping the harvest are the trapos who are also ripping ARMM apart;
We recall that senatorial candidates in elections often miss to visit our places and when they come, promise us development. We would like to think that senators have a major stake in the ARMM synchronization bill. In all ARMM elections, the issue of electoral fraud and vote-rigging confronts senatorial candidates who are at the tail-end of closely-fought elections. Fraud in ARMM elections has led to a questionable 12-0 Maguindanao vote, Hello Garci scandal, among others in the past. By reforming ARMM electoral processes now before holding any electoral exercise, it would help Senators promote the sanctity of the ballot;
We remember the unresolved Ampatuan massacre in November 2009, a continuing problem of electoral violence deeply embedded on how elections are conducted in ARMM;
If US President Obama says Never Again 9-11, we Moro and other stakeholders say never again Ampatuan massacre, never again 2000 all-out war, never again martial law;
Thus, after having consulted constituencies in ARMM and sectors concerned on ARMM, we, a broad coalition of progressive individuals and organizations from ARMM, as well as Moros all over the Philippines, clamor for reforms in our homeland;
We see postponement of the elections as giving President Benigno Aquino III and the present government a legal opportunity to install a transition reform government of appointive officials that will implement a social contract for reforms;
We offer our twelve-point reform agenda on addressing private armies, devolution of varied services to ARMM, implement the Final Peace Agreement, among others;
We thus seek the Senate’s action on Senate Bill 2756;
Yes, we celebrate Manny Pacquiao’s fight, but help us also fight a true battle for roughly 4 million residents who deserve to have the same opportunities as other Filipinos in other regions are having;
Help us build an ARMM worthy of the blood of our martyrs who fought for freedom…
- Reform ARMM Now Coalition
- Bangsamoro Solidarity Movement (Bangsa)
- Bangsamoro Lawyers Network (BLN)
- Kadtuntaya Foundation Inc.
- Bangsamoro Womens Forum for Peace and Development Inc.
- Maranao People’s Development Center (Maradeca)
- Siad in Mindanao Convergence for Asset Reform and Regional Development (Simcarrd)
- Solidarity for Peace and Equity-led Development (Speed)
- Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
- Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC)
- Minority Rights Forum Philippines
- Geared Young Volunteers Enthusiasts