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The complex realities of reforming the ARMM

There are people in Southern Philippines who have waited for so long for the ‘real macoy’ to happen since 1976. What they have been getting from the national government and from their regional leaders are crumbs or bits and pieces. They struggle for self-determination, and they get a bogus ‘autonomy’. They are given an autonomous government and a promise of reconstruction yet they get neither autonomy nor livelihood and much less the promised ‘reconstruction’ post conflict. The people’s patience is, often, put to test by the seeming super slow movements both in terms of autonomy and prosperity in the Southern Philippines. The only consolation they hear is an old and overused Spanish adage that says: ‘la ciencia de la paz es la ciencia de paciencia.’ But how long can their patience hold? During the debates over the synchronization of the ARMM Elections to the second Monday of May 2013, the things said in secret came out in the open. The ‘ARMM is a failed experiment.’ The rationale behind the move of postponement is the determination of the PNoy Government to effect genuine reforms in the ARMM. The desire is very laudable. But the real question is whether there is the political will and enough ‘wherewithal’ to do the desired reforms in such a short time (barely 22 months). Without the singular determination of the Presidency and the much-needed ‘cash’, kiss the reforms good bye! I am often asked if the reforms in the ARMM are possible within such a short period of time. My answer is of course guarded. But I believe that reform and development in the ARMM are possible provided that the national and regional leadership shall have the three necessary ingredients to do the reforms. Without these three ingredients, you may as well not begin all since any attempt at reform would simply lead to more frustrations. The first ingredient is to undertake a total overhaul of the ARMM bureaucracy. There is a new of new faces at the helm of the ARMM bureaucracy. Rightly or wrongly, there is a wide spread malaise in the bureaucracy. People do not trust the familiar names and faces of the leaders and the bureaucracy anymore. The years of corruption, entitlements and ineptness in the system have all have contributed to the prevailing malaise and public perception of the ARMM. The single prayer of so many people is NOT to see re-cycled faces in the OICs. The present caretakers in the ARMM have been working hard to refurbish the ARMM image following the now infamous Maguindanao Massacre that has become the powerful symbol to all and sundry what has gone wrong in the ARMM for years. They new administrators are caught in the bureaucratic mill and with no wherewithal; the efforts have not gone far enough before the debates on synchronization of elections have overtaken them. This fact actually leads to the second ingredient necessary for real reform in the ARMM. Any radical reform in the ARMM can only be done in what is often talked about in the post conflict reconstruction as ‘the state of exception’. The reform in the ARMM including the appointments of OICs cannot be subjected to the regular bureaucratic mill. The mill is not only characterized by so many land mines aka political compromises but it also grinds slow! The other proposal to subject the OICs to endless consultations and the reforms to endless meetings is also another formula for disaster. What is most needed this time is the sterling character of the OICs and that they also enjoy the full trust of the President. They are accountable to the President during this time of state of exception and NOT to the people of the ARMM. This time, the operative word is ‘TRUST” the President! The third ingredient is the much-needed wherewithal. Genuine Reform like post conflict reconstruction is NEVER done piece meal. The needed reform and development in the ARMM has to be wholesale. This means the Presidency is willing to stake a good portion of the President’s Social Fund and he is willing to give budgetary allocation for the required development infrastructures and access to basic services. All can do the talking when it comes to reforms. But the real test of the talk is the willingness of the national leadership to walk the talk in concrete terms of CASH or wherewithal. This time, what is needed is not merely to walk the talk but also to walk the walk meaning the Presidency has to take the personal initiative to accompany the regional OICs in walking the walk! Reforming the ARMM sounds and looks quixotic! But it is possible if the national leadership will be bold enough to undertake the three ingredients for real reforms in the ARMM. The new law gives this rare opportunity to the President. This rare opportunity comes only under extraordinary times. I can only hope and pray that the President would never be lacking in courage to bring to completion what he has started by postponing the ARMM Elections. In a similar vein, the President and his appointed OICs would need all the cooperation to make true this quixotic venture. For myself, I commit to do my utmost to match the President’s boldness in walking his talk to make that dream a reality in the coming months!