Sunday, December 20, 2009

Scrapping of ARMM no solution to Maguindanao crisis — Pimentel


Original Story:

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. yesterday frowned on a proposal to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), seeing it as a pathetic attempt by the administration to find a scapegoat for an allied political clan’s involvement in the massacre of 57 civilians in Maguindanao province last Nov. 23.

Pimentel was reacting to a statement of former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro that the ARMM is a failure and that the people of the region should decide whether they want the autonomous setup to continue or not.

“The ARMM may not be working properly, but it is not because the concept of autonomy is wrong or the ARMM law is faulty,” he said.

Pimentel, principal author of the organic law that created the ARMM, said autonomy for Muslim Mindanao should be upgraded instead of being scuttled or withdrawn.

“It needs improvement. For example, instead of being just an autonomous region, it should be converted into a federal state. That is a vast improvement,” he said.

“But even as an autonomous region, the fault for the massacre in Maguindanao cannot be attributed to the ARMM,” he added.

The senator from Mindanao said he could not see how the dissolution of the ARMM can be justified considering that the establishment of the autonomous region is not only mandated by the Constitution but is also a government commitment under its peace agreement with the former Muslim secessionist group Moro National Liberation Front. He said it would be preposterous to undo a decision already made by the people in the ARMM provinces to be part of the autonomous region during a plebiscite.

Pimentel has proposed the adoption of a federal system, which will include the creation of a Bangsa Moro federal state, to put an end to a monopoly of political power by “imperial Manila,” pave the way for an equitable utilization and sharing of economic resources, and provide the ultimate political solution to the Muslim insurgency.

The veteran parliamentarian said a major reason for the failure of the ARMM is the fact that the autonomous region fell into the hands of an inept and abusive leadership. He was referring to the installation of a member of the Ampatuan clan through the help of President Arroyo as a reward for the dubious contributions by this political dynasty to her victory in the fraud-tainted 2004 elections.

Pimentel said the national government has poured huge amounts of funds to the ARMM to hasten its economic growth and enable it to catch up with the more developed and progressive regions.

It is not true, he said, that the ARMM lacks funding support because aside from the subsidy from the national government, the five provinces that comprise the autonomous region regularly get their shares of the Internal Revenue Allotment. Aside from this, he said the region has been receiving enormous development aid from donor-countries and multilateral financial institutions.

“The problem is that funds for the ARMM are being misused and stolen by unscrupulous officials. What we see is a total breakdown of the system for preventing misappropriation of funds. That explains why the Ampatuans have been leading an opulent lifestyle, building so many palatial mansions, while their constituents are wallowing in poverty and hardly are there any development projects being implemented (in the region),” Pimentel said.

He was outraged by the revelation of an ARMM official that when funds are released by the national government to the autonomous region, the Ampatuans always saw to it that the lion’s share went to Maguindanao, putting the four other provinces – Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi – at a disadvantage.

He said this is violative of the rule that the distribution and use of funds should be determined and approved by the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly.

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