Again, begin from the beginning
It may be slow, or not fast enough, for those who believe that the prosecution of cases against the thieving and criminal allies of the Arroyo administration has been sidetracked by such things as video games and sideshows like those of Kris Aquino (for heaven’s sake when will she just shut up?). But still there is much hope on the horizon now that the promised and much-anticipated process of accountability has finally been initiated.
With Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo confined to comfortable quarters at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, and a million-peso reward on the head of fugitive retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, we are finally seeing false gods beginning to crumble like dust into ignominy, as they must.
While it is irresistibly tempting, I will not dwell this time on Arroyo’s comical whining about being deprived of her beloved gadgets of mass destruction, as if it were as bad as depriving Jonas Burgos of his very breath; nor on her highly praised, battle-tested AFP general now the icon of cowardice.
That the Aquino administration is now seriously going through the painful and even perilous undertaking of fighting corruption and bringing to account those guilty of crimes against the people is enough to bring new hope to a public that seems to have long given up on it. Like the constituents of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The long history of graft and corruption, where many, if not all cases, have not gone beyond publicity stage, can make Arroyo’s venalities look like mere caprices of a spoiled “little girl.” Although, as shown by the excesses of her loyal Ampatuan allies, thievery and insatiable greed can only be possible if tolerated, if not actually, abetted.
President Aquino has done what no other president even dared to think of doing—that of “reforming” the ARMM by, first, synchronizing its elections with that of the national and local elections; and by appointing a new set of officials during the transition period.
Against objections from certain sectors and vested interests, the President has appointed former Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman of the island province of Basilan as OIC regional governor, a move that drew approval from reformist youth who had endorsed him.
Hataman’s appointment is significant in that for the first time in the history of the ARMM, a Yakan is at the helm of this very troublesome and troubled local government structure. Before, it was a round-robin game just among the more dominant tribes—Tausug, Maguindanao and Maranao—because the voting population of Basilan is too small to elect one of their own into the ARMM governorship.
Hataman, a former student activist and known to be the more progressive-minded among the emerging leaders of Basilan and the Yakan tribe, has however been saddled from the start with his alleged involvement in the murder of the late Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar and even in corruption, which he has denied. But more disheartening, he has been accused of bringing back to power known allies of the Ampatuan clan.
Be that as it may, it is rather disheartening to note that with the limited time allotted to the transition government that he heads, he has chosen to waste precious working hours in going after illegal loggers—though laudable in itself—thus, it seems, he had sidestepped the main, radical reason President Aquino installed him as ARMM’s OIC governor. Which is reform.
There is no aspect of the ARMM governance that is crying out more desperately for reform than the system itself which has made corruption endemic, and stealing the people’s money easier than dipping one’s hand into a cookie jar.
And the direct consequence of this thievery is manifested not only in the tragic lack of basic services, delay or even non-payment of teachers’ salaries and insurance premiums, etc., etc., but also in the highly despicable reality that proceeds of graft and corruption have become the main source of funds for maintaining private armies and providing them with their lethal hardware.
Graft and corruption led to the gory murder of 58 people in the infamous Maguindanao massacre; graft and corruption caused the deaths of soldiers in the field fighting terrorists pretending to be secessionist rebels, who are better armed than government soldiers.
Graft and corruption continues to cause the displacement of thousands of civilians caught in the crossfires of the never-ending wars in Mindanao, thus draining government resources further as these are funneled to maintain evacuation centers and implement rehabilitation programs.
Graft and corruption continues to cause the election of the same thieves election after election, keeping on an intolerable leash the hopes and aspirations of the Mindanao people and holding back the fulfillment of the promise that is Mindanao.
And what about the debilitating psychological harm caused by the conflict that has turned countless otherwise productive citizens into mere dependents, stripped of their dignity and the means to pursue a better life?
This is what Hataman and his set of officials should focus on, if they are to give meaning to the reform agenda that is the raison d’être for their appointment.
You may clamp Arroyo and her horde of thieving allies in jail till they rot, as they indeed deserve to, but leaving their cohorts and their ilk in the ARMM to continue breathing the air of freedom is a betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the long-oppressed and long-suffering people of the country’s richest island.
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