THE Aquino Administration should explain to us why it is so eager to grant autonomy to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao—Bangsamoro, if you prefer the term—and the five provinces that compose the region. We, in Luzon and the rest of the Philippines’ non-Muslim population in the Visayas and Mindanao, are not being told why our Muslim brothers have been left out and are lagging behind economically compared with us.
Where and how did we fail them?
If ARMM politicians want autonomy, by all means, they should get it. No one should stop them from leading their own provinces and their own people to prosperity. After all, they should feel obliged to liberate themselves from poverty, but not after examining where the development efforts of the national government have failed the expectations of their people.
Have the ARMM’s provinces not been receiving enough benefits from the annual pork barrel allocations to their district representatives as their counterparts do from the rest of the country? To know the answer, try counting the money that has been poured into the region by auditing your leaders since the era of your great grandfathers. The sum could be astounding but the actual infrastructure in place could look miserably wanting.
For a change in dealing with the ARMM, the government should initiate a drastic switch in strategy. The first step could be to ask the region’s leaders for the economic profile of each province. This way, we in Luzon, in the Visayas and non-Muslim areas of Mindanao will be informed of the reasons why we are being made to pay the price of autonomy to the tune of more than P60 billion a year, instead of the region’s politicians and their eager supporter, Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquno 3rd, Malacanang’s temporary chief occupant? Second, why not ask the members of Congress—meaning the Senate and the House of Representatives—to divert their pork barrel funds to the ARMM? Third, why not ask Malacanang’s temporary chief occupant to give up his unlimited and unaudited funds in favor of our Muslim brothers. The total could run into several billions that would be more than enough to dig an oil well or even more somewhere in the region.
To educate us on ARMM’s economic profile, certain questions should be asked. Is the population too poor to support an autonomous leadership? What have their leaders done to attract investors to put up businesses in any of the five provinces? These businesses, in turn, could generate employment and serve as the politicians’ source of revenues for the region’s coffers.
Here is a big poser: Why, for instance, are the big family-owned-and-controlled conglomerates very cautious in investing in ARMM’s provinces? If they already have, then are they investing in Mamasapano? If they don’t have any kind of exposure there, then what’s wrong with the ARMM’s investment policies implemented by Muslim political leaders?
The Filipinos who watched a few weeks ago the TV news coverage of the mass murder of the 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police in Mamasapano could have noticed the vast, idle piece of land that may have been the battlefield where these policemen died. Didn’t anyone wonder why there was no SM (Shoemart) Department Store around the area so that instead of war, the place would have been teeming with shoppers or other sorts of potential clients.
Perhaps, it would also be timely to ask why none of the ARMM provinces had any beer brewery owned either by San Miguel Corp. or by Asia Brewery Inc. of the LT Group of Companies controlled by businessman Lucio Tan. Have the Zobels considered Mamasapano as site of any low-cost housing project developed by Ayala Land Inc., the property unit of their holding company, Ayala Corp.?
It’s time the government presented to us the true economic profile, or poverty situation, of the ARMM and its people for us to be moved to share generously our taxes with our less fortunate Muslim brothers in Mamasapano and the ARMM’s other towns and villages that need immediate government attention.
Next time the ARMM politicians talk about money, they should also be ready to tell us how they have disbursed their pork barrel funds. If other provinces in the country have partly received even a slight economic push because of the pork barrel, there is no reason why the ARMM, or Bangsamoro provinces, shouldn’t have benefited similarly from such government funds. Of course, as known to many, pork barrel had been renamed Countryside Development Fund in the post-Marcos era, before it became known as the scandal-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), though it continued to reek of the rotten, acrid smell of corruption all the same.