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A New Authority for Mindanao

By Zakaria Abdullah

Al-Jazeerah &, March 8, 2010


Every time a national statistic on Philippine economy is mentioned, my morale dips to its lowest ebb. For while the rest of the country is being portrayed with positive growth, Muslim Mindanao always come out with the red marks, or always rated further down the rung. For that matter, some Filipino political leaders develop a conscience of guilt. Those who are in position to give justice to the Moro situation are driven to initiate changes in the bureaucracy by restructuring some existing institutions to give Muslims more say in the management or governing board.

 Unfortunately, as the general outlook of Filipinos have already been ingrained in contrast to Malaysia‚??s ‚??prosper thy neighbor policy,‚?? the exercise usually end up only in the name change. The case of the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) was quite comical and interesting. It was formed in 1996 along with the signing of the "Final" Peace Accord with the MNLF.

When the administration learned that it had become a milking cow for some of the opposition solons, President G. M. Arroyo deactivated it in 2002. But upon reconsideration tht SPDA used to attract donations in millions of US Dollars from Muslim countries in the Middle East, it was reactivated in August 2006 under the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP). This ensures that no opposition politicians can soak their dirty hands into SPDA anymore.

NCMF replaces OMA Republic Act 9997 created the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) to replace the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA), as it may have already been mired in unsavory developments under the direction of certain presidential cronies. Enacted along with NCMF, is the Mindanao Economic Development Authority (MinDA), otherwise known as R.A. 9996.

Through these twin enactments, Mindanao is expected to become ‚??the lynchpin of the Philippines in this century creating economic growth just like the Central Plains which became the country‚??s Rice Bowl,‚?? said Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri. On paper, it appears that both MinDA and NCMF laws ‚??will put an end to the issue that Imperial Manila decides the fate of Mindanao for Manila‚??s interests,‚?? as Zubiri puts it, adding that ‚??Putting Muslim Filipinos at the forefront in the socio-economic development of Mindanao also bodes well for ending poverty-driven conflicts in Mindanao."

The Statistics "These are the essential partner documents of the peace process as they enter the socio-economic development phase in the talks. Today we end the lip service to peace and development in Mindanao. These laws empower all Filipinos including Muslim Filipinos to do real development,‚?? Zubiri stressed. He also fought for the inclusion of a representative from the NCMF, as a member of the board of the MinDA. Zubiri said this law is "tailor-fit for Mindanao.

Despite the rich natural resources of Mindanao especially its rich biodiversity, many Mindanaoans are poor. In 2006, poverty incidence in Mindanao was as high as 78.9% of families in Tawi-Tawi, 63% in Zamboanga del Norte and 62% in Maguindanao. Even gold-rich Compostela Valley exhibits high poverty incidence at 39.8%." (According to the latest National Statistics Office figures). Zubiri noted a recent Social Weather Station survey on self-rated poverty / food-poverty. Both indicators declined in most areas but rose or were practically the same in Mindanao at 55%.

For poverty, a 10-point drop to 50% was noted in the Visayas, while the figure for the Balance of Luzon was six points lower at 43%. It was down two points to 38% in Metro Manila. "Many in Mindanao are hungry even if some food items are cheap because of lop-sided development thrusts by the national as well as local governments," Zubiri explained. Self-rated food poverty rose by 11 points in Mindanao to 48%. In Balance Luzon, it went down seven points to 36% and by five points in the Visayas to 41%.

In Metro Manila it went down by two points to 30%. "Likewise, belt-tightening by families is reflected by the self-rated poverty threshold -- or the monthly budget that poor households need in order not to consider themselves poor in general - paint a gloomy picture of Mindanao." The median poverty threshold for poor households rose to P6,000 in Mindanao, P8,000 in the Balance of Luzon, to P7,000 in the Visayas. In Metro Manila, the amount went down to P12,000. The median food-poverty thresholds for poor households remained at P3,000 in Mindanao. It went up to P7,000 in Metro Manila, to P5,000 in the Balance of Luzon and to P4,000 in the Visayas.

The above statistics did not mention the poverty incidence in Sulu, which should be worse than or at least equal to that of Tawi-Tawi. Anyway, for a moment the thought that: if only there are many Zubiris in Philippine Congress, the sad state of poverty incidence in Mindanao may not be as worse today... would crept into one‚??s mind to ponder. Toothless ACA On second thought, however, it may not at all change the whole scenario as Zubiri and colleagues in Congress only legislate laws.

The implementation of the laws are done by other Filipinos, most of whom do not share the sentiments and zeal of Zubiri in efforts to uplift the sad state of Moro economy and to prosper them. The absence of a strong-willed anti-corruption agency (ACA) also may never change the norm in public service where transparency is but an exception. Statutory bodies such as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), according to a friend who had just left that office, cannot function as desired because it is operating on a 70-80 per cent budget only.

The remaining 20-30 per cent has to be left behind somewhere at the Department of Budget Management (DBM) for certain officials there ‚??to disburse‚?? in their behalf, otherwise they have to wait until an uncertain future, as cash is ‚?�available‚?? only up to that much! With so much of its budget sliced, the tendency is for the ARMM officials to delay the implementation of certain projects by using the available cash for ‚??other purposes.‚?? And the absence of a meaningful ACA, emboldens every tom-dick-harry to sidetrack the disbursement procedures. Such state of affairs could also be true to other government bodies drawing their budget from DBM aka ‚?�Department of Budget Manipulation!‚.

 The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) cannot function fairly due to the fact that if they have to run after the ‚??cheats‚??, they have to start and to contend with (based on volume and value of corruption) the occupants of the Palace by the Pasig River! How sure can we be that the DBM crocs are doing such dirty ‚?�management‚?? on their own initiatives only, without some abetment from the vicinity of the Pasig River? Irreconcilable Differences By any standard, the relationship between Moro and Filipino is 180 degrees irreconcilable.

The MILF is just too patient in dealing with the whims and caprices of the GRP in and off the negotiation process. But even the international community who are following the GRP-MILF peace process are already bored and angry at the antics of the Filipino peace panel. For the meantime, there may be wisdom in clinging to the peace process until the GRP can no longer produce new antics except to recycle their ‚??paikutin‚?? (fooling around) adage. By then, the GRP Peace Panelists may finally come to terms with their own follies and to learn that they have only been fooling themselves.

Paper Powers The NCMF will have broader powers "to further ensure their (Moro) contribution to national goals and aspirations and to make them active participants in nation-building," said Zubiri, the major proponent of the new Commission. He has been very optimistic that his brainchild will at least be able to restrain the Moro people from cutting off the docking cable that had held their Muslim Mindanao Ship at the Philippine Jetty for over half-a-decade now. Going through the functions of NCMF, at the outset, Muslims could feel they have got all what it takes to achieve progress and remain Filipino. But to think of its implementers and the mode of implementation, everyone would demand: enough is enough, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR SELF-DETERMINATION, NOW! /zba




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