Now or never
Finally, last Thursday, June 30, the day that marked his first year in office, President Benigno Aquino III signed into law Republic Act 10153 that resets the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) from August this year to the second Monday of May 2013, simultaneous with the next national and local elections.
The law provides for the appointment of officers in charge who will take over the positions that shall be vacated by the incumbent elective officials upon the expiration of their terms. These are the regional governor, vice governor and the members of the legislative assembly.
The officers in charge will be selected from a list submitted by a screening committee in consultation with the Senate president and the speaker of the House. The OICs will hold office during the 21-month transition period, within which they are mandated to institute the needed reforms that is the rationale behind President Aquino’s initiative of postponing this year’s ARMM elections.
In his speech after the signing of RA 10153, President Aquino said that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) will implement a roadmap of reforms and ensure that laws will be followed, in a region that has been generally perceived as lawless.
The Commission of Elections will undertake the “cleansing” of voters’ lists through another round of voter registration, and the modernization of the voting process.
And there is some bad news for those who have criticized and imputed various motives to the Aquino administration for this move and insisted on the status quo: President Aquino said the reforms to be instituted will address corruption, electoral fraud and poverty. For starters, there will be no more cash advances for procurement of equipment and supplies and for services.
Quietly and systematically, the Commission on Audit has been going through the financial transactions of the ARMM, the results of which, it is hoped, will be made public, so that the region’s constituency will at least know why people like the Ampatuan ruling family can almost rival the Sultan of Brunei in their worldly possessions while they the taxpayers cannot have decent schools and health facilities.
The officers in charge are tasked to review the ARMM Organic Act and make recommendations on its improvement within six months of assumption to office, which is really the sine qua non to the success of these reforms.
In anticipation of this, the Reform ARMM Now! (RAN), the broad coalition of civil society and youth groups that actively lobbied for the passage of the synchronization bill, has already drafted a road map for reforms that will be submitted to the President for consideration.
The RAN road map is the result of several consultations at the grassroots level conducted by its composite groups and is a comprehensive and detailed proposal for change that covers just about everything under the headings of governance and administration, peace and order, social services, economy, natural resources, land use and the environment.
The reform road map also brings up the issue of the autonomous region’s participation in national economic planning, participatory budgeting, freedom of information, a reversal of the arms culture and the active participation of civil society groups.
They are also urging the people to participate in the policy reform decision-making process and to submit names of potential nominees to the ARMM transition government.
As I browsed through their reform proposals I saw in a single document all that was wrong in the region and why it has consistently scored the most dismal statistics—the poorest, the lowest in literacy, the most in the number of maternal deaths, infant mortality and diseases, the lowest in educational and general living standards, the lowest in development, the most deprived of social services including the most basic, clean running water, and, as night follows day, the shortest average lifespan, made even shorter by the endless killings, bombings and shelling.
And what I sensed throughout the enumeration of what was wrong and what to do about it was a now-or-never determination that it seems only the youth are capable of, of indeed seeing things as they really are and of how they should be, and what they are willing to do to walk their talk, so to speak.
What this all amounts to is the latest evolution of the autonomous government, which is a history of experimental structures, all conceived (and sometimes contrived) to achieve that very elusive peace and progress in a region that is so richly endowed, yet so poorly developed, it can make you weep.
Will this initiative of President Aquino, with the full support of these young reformists, bring about a bagong buwan [new moon] over Mindanao and the islands of the south?
Not if the oppositionists like Rep. Edcel Lagman, for whatever reasons they may have, will set up the usual barricades and landmines.
Even before President Aquino signed RA 10153 into law, one of RAN’S more vocal members, Dr. Darwin Rasul III, convenor of Bangun! (Rise!), was receiving thinly veiled death threats after making public his support for former Basilan Representative Mujiv Hataman, a leading nominee for regional governor in the transition government.
So, as we did before, many years ago, we ask again— “How many times must a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? And how many years must some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? ”
And the answer is still the same, my friend. Blowing in the wind.
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