OPINION: Duterte and ARMM

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Dec 08 2016 05:19 AM

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has been true to his vow that he would give full attention to Moro concerns, especially on issues within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). So far.

On Friday, December 2, the President once again addressed leaders of the region during the 3rd ARMM Local Government Summit held in Davao City. The last time he spoke before the region’s officials was on October 29, when he went to the ARMM’s regional seat in Cotabato City to launch a menu of programs and projects aimed at correcting perennial biases against Moro provinces in national resource allocation.

Only five months after he was elected president, Duterte has been roaming around ARMM provinces -- talking to people, talking to leaders. 

Unlike his October speech, the President’s message during the ARMM summit in Davao sounded more serious, even urgent. It was not a repetition of development interventions that he intends to introduce to Bangsamoro under his watch. 

Productive dialogues between national leaders and the Moros were absent in the past, he said, resulting in problems that have been amplified many times over. It is imperative, therefore, that a cohesive interaction between national and Moro leaders be institutionalized under his administration. 

To a certain extent, his approach to cohesive interaction between ARMM and the Manila government reiterates his statement in Cotabato City in October -- that he would directly handle Moro issues. 

The Moro rebellion, he explained in his extemporaneous speech, is a form of Moro nationalism, fueled by injustices committed against Mindanaons, especially the Moros and the local tribes. Few would argue against such a statement, but acts of blatant terrorism should never be justified.

The change in the tenor of the President’s speech was expected since he was in Lanao del Sur the day before. He went to check on the condition of the soldiers and the current military operation against an armed group that claims alignment with ISIS.

Notwithstanding his consistent stand supporting Moro advocacies, Duterte asked for support from Moro leaders to thwart attempts that would sow seeds of terrorism on mainland Mindanao.

An ISIS-influenced group in north-central region of the island would be a bigger headache to the government compared with a local terror group, such as the Abu Sayyaf, whose sphere of influence is restricted to the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan.

When he assumed office five months ago, among the first things the President did was to lay the groundwork for initial dialogues with various rebel groups. Such a move yielded positive results. 

Duterte’s speech before the ARMM’s leaders sums up to an exhortation expounding on a setup where Moros could leave peacefully and progressively within their preferred system of governance. All this could be achieved, he claims, through the federal system of government that he has been proposing even before he was elected president.

Such political framework would support a sustainable development formula that benefits Moro areas, not only the traditional northern regions that receive the lion’s share in the annual budgetary allocation. 

It would depend, however, on the sincerity and effectiveness of the future Bangsamoro state’s leadership.

The concern over the emergence of an armed group in Lanao del Sur is urgent not only because of its adverse political impact in the near term, but because of its effects on immediate to long-term economic development prospects of Central Mindanao as well.

How could major projects be implemented in Moro areas where an ISIS-linked armed group operates? Would private investors, now on a wait-and-see mode, cancel or delay projects in Moro provinces that could provide income not only to local government units but employment to local residents as well? 

Having a federal government, the President said, is the only solution to the conflict that has once again taken root in some provinces in Mindanao. 

Duterte has made it clear that he is determined to aggressively pursue his objectives, underscoring that he would consider his presidency a failure if his administration fails to effect a change to a federal form of government.

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Amir Mawallil is a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network, the biggest organization of Muslim professionals in the country.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.