COTABATO CITY — The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is at another juncture in its history as a region. On Jan. 21 next year, a plebiscite will be held that will shape the configuration of the area and the destiny of the people living therein. While the Bangsamoro Organic Law is marred with questions as to whether it truly represents the 50-year struggle of Moro Filipinos, it is a welcome accomplishment given the many times the minoritized people of the south had experienced defeat in the fight for equal opportunities and representation.
As Mindanawons, the destiny of the Bangsamoro Region is a shared destiny for us all. Like most of our brethren in the region, we all need to take part in the dialogue, knowing full well that the standing of the region will also impact on the status of Mindanao as a whole.
Thus, as a critical observer, I have a few suggestions for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, if we are to institutionalize a region that can rightfully represent the spirit of the struggle.
First, the culture of service must be instituted among the public officers — both elected and appointed — in the upcoming government. We demanded many times that rightful autonomy must be given. Now, let us remind ourselves that with autonomy comes accountability. Let us prevent this new government from being tagged as another failed experiment.
Therefore, we need to work for a transparent government. We need to be accountable not to the central government in Manila, but to our constituents, to our own people who have supported us, struggled with us, and made this juncture possible. How can we institutionalize the concept of ownership among them? How do we involve them in effective governance? How can we provide them a sense of ownership in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and get away from the traditional mindset that they are passive recipients of government services? How do we engage them to proactively take part in building opportunities not just for themselves, but also for the region as a whole?
Second, we need to rid ourselves of the culture of patronage in civil service, by putting up a system that is merit-based. If we want to make this region truly competitive, we must begin with a civil service that hires and retains people on the basis of performance and merit, not kinship. While the challenge of patronage is a countrywide affliction, it is an excellent opportunity that we are given a chance to reboot, to recheck the qualifications of people who are supposed to render services to our constituents.
Third, let’s not get all too caught up with the question of representation. While this question has its merits, we have to bear in mind that the Bangsamoro region is a highly diverse region. What’s imperative is that, regardless of who will occupy the positions in the new government, public goods must be given equitably for all while giving priority to those at the fringes of the economy.
At the end of the day, it is about public service. And while we can aspire for inclusive representation, what’s more important is inclusive providence of public goods and services. That’s what the constituents are paying for, regardless of their ethnolinguistic groups and backgrounds.
Fourth, another significant challenge is the improvement of the image of our region. While we know that the perception of a violent region is an exaggeration, we have to acknowledge the presence of arms, which worsens the culture of insecurity not just among the people, but also among business investors. The new government must be truthful in its resolve to disband private armed groups, now that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has agreed to lay down its arms.
BARMM or not, we cannot go back to the way we were before. We have to improve the way we govern ourselves, for the sake of those who offered themselves for the struggle so that this opportune moment can see the light of day.
The struggle continues.
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Jesse Angelo L. Altez is an academic and development worker based in Mindanao. He has a master’s degree in public policy from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, Japan. React: @AngeloAltez
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