“Saying that the ARMM needs reform and (that these) can only be done when Aquino appoints an OIC [officer-in-charge] is an act of chauvinism by Aquino against the Moro people and the constituents of ARMM.” – Ba Ali Indayla, secretary-general of KAWAGIB.
By MARYA SALAMAT
While the Aquino government justified the postponement of the elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with promises of reform, this is not being viewed positively by some sectors of the Bangsamoro people. In fact, some view this as an affront.
“Saying that the ARMM needs reform and (that these) can only be done when Aquino appoints an OIC [officer-in-charge] is an act of chauvinism by Aquino against the Moro people and the constituents of ARMM,” Ba Ali Indayla, secretary-general of KAWAGIB, told Bulatlat.com. She added that “with these, Aquino already took away the right to suffrage of the people living within the ARMM. Even the smallest democratic space was taken away from the people. Democracy dies as Aquino pays back his political allies by appointing them.”
As it is, Republic Act 9054 An Act to Strengthen and Expand the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 6734, Entitled “An Act Providing for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” as amended, is already being deemed as sorely lacking in terms of providing the Bangsamoro people their right to self-determination.
The RA 9054 is “in stark contrast to the form of autonomy demanded by the Moro people,” Muslimin Sema, chair of a faction of MNLF, reportedly told MindaNews while in an ARMM Peace Summit in Mindanao last September.
Nevertheless, the reform being promised by the Aquino government is being viewed with suspicion.“Pro-postponement groups said it [postponement of elections] will give way for amendments to RA 9054 when there will be signed agreements [between the Philippine government and the MILF],” Indayla said.
But despite government and MILF hopes, “there is no assurance that an agreement will be signed this early,” Indayla told Bulatlat.com, explaining that “peace negotiation is a long process,” and “there is still questions on the sincerity of the government since they have not released the political detainees of MILF.” The MILF had asked the Aquino government, last December, to completely stop the arrests of MILF leaders and men and to free political detainees, including the 25 MILF members, to raise the confidence in the peace negotiations.
Indayla of KAWAGIB noted that MILF front commanders have not issued categorical statements yet about their views on the postponement of ARMM elections. But in Kawagib’s talks with some of them, Indayla was told that “they don’t favor the postponement.”
The Healing Democracy Group, an election watchdog composed of Muslim-Christian advocates calling for electoral reforms in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is chafing at the way the Aquino government has treated the MILF and the MNLF in the election postponement issue.
“To categorize the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front as mere ‘stakeholders’ of the ARMM, who were consulted regarding the postponement, is limiting the supposed role of the MILF and the MNLF,” said Amirah Lidasan, representative of Healing Democracy Project in Maguindanao, during a public consultation held in Cotabato City by the House Committee on Suffrage and Muslim Affairs last March. Lidasan clarified that the two fronts are “revolutionaries, they are supposed to lead and are actually now at the forefront of the Bangsamoro struggle, whose representation goes beyond the ARMM and whose politics cannot be limited within the ARMM.”
The postponement may have also caused rifts. The MILF reportedly removed Eid Kabalu – who said he resigned – as its spokesperson after he announced his desire to become officer-in-charge (OIC) of ARMM in the event the scheduled elections were postponed.
The electoral system in the Philippines has historically been adjudged as not exactly a level playing field. “The right to suffrage of the people is not complete. The right to be elected is reserved to an elite group of rich people with guns, goons and gold,” said Amirah Ali Lidasan.
Particularly “In the ARMM, the elected officials are often appointed (or anointed) by the ruling administration and they usually come from the same political party.” But “that small space of democracy is further reduced with the process of appointment, which reserves the selection of nominees for officers-in-charge of ARMM to the same elite people who are close to the incumbent president,” Lidasan explained.
Added to this, the Aquino government’s law seeking to synchronize the ARMM elections with the 2013 elections has unleashed “debasing comments about the people in the ARMM”, Lidasan complained.
“We were a ‘failed experiment,’ poor and corrupt, and a host of most biased comments for a region that has delivered block votes for national politicians and enriched the national government with its still unexploited natural resources,” Lidasan said during the public consultation in Cotabato city conducted by a committee of the Lower House. She asked how the Moro people within the ARMM can freely determine their future “when their governance is controlled by Malacañang.”
To see is to believe
“To leave the ARMM configuration open to whatever may ensue from the peace process with both the MILF and MNLF will only reveal the government’s lack of sincerity in addressing historical injustices to the Moro people,” wrote Alber Husin, a professor on leave from the Department of Social Sciences, School of Liberal Arts at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University.
After all, the “ARMM is the most tangible element of Bangsamoro Self-Determination within the framework of the Philippine Constitution. It must be strengthened as part of the peace process with the Bangsamoro people,” Husin said. Reforming the ARMM, he argued, should thus be done in a process that upholds democratic principles and the rule of law.
To tinker now with what’s already defined by law smacks of the Aquino government’s contempt for what the Bangsamoro people has accomplished, he said. “The 1996 GRP-MNLF Final peace agreement was not implemented accordingly, while we cannot be sure that the GRP-MILF peace process will come to an end before the elections in 2013,” Husin said. He concluded that it is against common sense to hold the existing ARMM structures hostage to the ambiguities of peace negotiations “since the ARMM itself is a fruit of the Moro struggle and a previous peace process with the same government.”
Lidasan reminded a public hearing on the proposal to postpone elections about “what the national government did with the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement, which until now the MNLF is still crying foul about as the government continues to stall its full implementation.” Lidasan further reminded the public of “the consequences of the government’s move to discredit the GRP-MILF talks on Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008.” She said these are “reminders that the national government will never give the Moro people control over their resources.”