Atty. Ishak Mastura’s Sharing on the ARMM Experience during Autonomy Forum 2009



Multi-Purpose Hall, City Hall, Baguio City July 29, 2009, 1:00-5:00 PM


Deputy Executive Secretary Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao

Thank you, Director Navata. Good afternoon. As-salaam-o-aleykum. Mayor of Baguio City, Mayor Bautista, Dir. Ngalob, as well as Dir. Navata, Director Onus, and all the people of Baguio as well as the ones here in this forum.

It’s not my first time in Baguio. I had the chance of visiting the city in the past. As you know, Baguio is the summer capital of the country. I had a chance to study the history of Baguio and I know that Baguio is the second chartered city of the country, congratulations. Manila, of course, is the first.

The heart of autonomy is self-determination by the people

Our topic this afternoon is on autonomy. Well, I am not here to sell to you autonomy. I believe autonomy should sell itself. For each of us autonomy means a different thing. But the heart of autonomy is self-determination. And the people as a region or even as an ethnic group, or multiethnic group, – only you, the Cordillera people, can determine whether you want autonomy or not.

Each of us have a different path towards autonomy. Even the kind of autonomy you want must be determined by your people. The fact that you have not reached or formed your autonomous region despite 22 years of advocacy might mean that the Cordillera people, particularly the leadership, are not yet convinced of the benefits of autonomy.

But I also believe that the ground swell of support for autonomy must come from the people. For example, the Moro people, or the Bangsa Moro, have struggled for their autonomy and self determination in various ways, even to the extent of armed struggle.

I know you also have the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army. I also know your history from way back in olden times, Spanish and American, that your people have also struggled for self-determination.

In the case of the Moro struggle, we have the Moro National Liberation Front in the 1970s. Later on, they signed also a peace agreement with government in 1996, and this was the 1996 GRP-MNLF peace agreement. When Pres. Cory granted autonomy in 1987, or was it in 1992?, for the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, it was not participated by the MNLF. So we have that Republic Act 6734 which was crafted by Congress alone. Although they also went into the motion of going through a regional consultative council, this was without the revolutionary movement, meaning the MNLF, joining the process of crafting of the law. It lacked the legitimacy.

So that is why in 1996 when they signed the GRP-MNLF peace agreement, it was decided that the RA 6734, the first organic act, would be amended to jive/accommodate the peace agreement. Unfortunately what happened there was the MNLF already joined the government right away. Misuari became the first regional governor from the MNLF in the ARMM. Prior to that there were other regional governors, but that was the first time the MNLF joined the armed government.

So the transition was supposed to be that the MNLF will work for the amendment of the first organic act and make that organic act a product between the government and the MNLF to address the aspirations of the Bangsa Moro people. Unfortunately, it failed for lack of attention from the part of the MNLF. They have joined the system; they were corrupted by the system; they also had a failure in terms of transforming their armed struggle into a people’s movement, or even a Bangsa Moro party.

So when the time came to amend RA 6734, the first organic act, they did not participate. So again they missed the chance to determine the character, or the charter of the organic act. Later on, it was passed by Congress with minimal input from the MNLF, so even up to now, they are rejecting that autonomy. They are rejecting the organic act that we have now, which is RA 9054.

Autonomy need not be in one go

But before that, I must tell you, that in our experience of forming an autonomous region, in the first organic act, RA 6734, we also had a plebiscite and only four provinces joined: Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. In the amended organic act, which is RA 9054, it was only then that Marawi City and Basilan joined.

So that means autonomy need not be in one go; all or nothing. It can be staggered depending on the wishes of the people, and depending on the accession of your different provinces. So you have six provinces who want to be autonomous or part of an autonomous region but some may not be ready for autonomy so you can have a mechanism, your lawyers can discuss this with you, wherein later on, the others will be given a chance to accede, or to join an expanded autonomous region.

But before that, you must start somewhere, and unfortunately, 22 years have already taken place and you are still struggling for what you call unity in terms of your aspirations. And I tell you, even up to now we are not unified. We have different tribes, we have Tausug, Maranao, Maguindanao, Yakan, , 13 ethnolinguistic groups, in fact, the Moro people, but we already started; we are engaging in that process of autonomous government wherein in that milieu, in that setup, in that scenario, we are able to discuss things among ourselves as Bangsa Moro people, as one people.

Autonomy as the struggle against the center, must come from the gut

The differences will never go away. Because that is the process of autonomy. However you must understand that autonomy is a struggle against the center. The periphery against the center. So in your case, if you don’t really feel marginalized, if you don’t really feel that you must exert against the power of the center, than why aspire for autonomy? If you are already content with where you are, then why struggle for it, even if it is that good or beneficial to you.

So it must come from the gut. I believe that autonomy must come from the gut. It must be gut-feel. Kung gusto ng tao ng autonomy talaga, lalabas lang yan na kusang loob. I believe that it will be an expression of your own. Because it is a struggle against the center. But if you are struggling among yourselves, and you cannot see beyond yourselves, or if you cannot see beyond your region or beyond your own petty struggles, and you know, struggle against something larger than yourselves, then what’s the point of autonomy?

ARMM autonomy not yet perfect

In our case, for us, the autonomy that we have is not perfect, but we wished for a higher level of autonomy. For example, the MNLF, they are still asking for a new charter, for RA 9054 to be expanded or amended, or a completely new charter, so they are still mainstreaming with the government. But we also have the GRP-MILF peace process or peace negotiations, with the MILF. The torch of fighting for self-determination, for autonomy, has been passed on to the MILF. And the MILF are asking for the same aspirations, meaning, give the Bangsa Moro people a chance to write their own basic law, or their charter.

Because at the end of the day, it’s a relationship between the center and the periphery again. They want to re-define the relationship between the center and the periphery. They want to redefine the relationship between the Moro people and the Philippine Republic. So it is a legitimate struggle in the sense that all struggles for self-determination are recognized by international law. Even our own Constitution recognizes that, bolstered by the fact that our Constitution also says that international law forms part of the law of the land.

So in the case of the Cordillera people, if you do not have the gut feel for the struggle, you know, really say that you want to chart your own destiny, to have a separate character against the center, meaning “the Manila government”, or the “imperial government” or the “imperial manila” or the “imperial center”, then it is very hard to form an autonomous region.

Other ethno-linguistic groups would have grab the chance to be autonomous

I was talking to Director Navata and he told me, “If it were given to the Ilocanos, I think they would grab it. If it were given to the Bicolanos or to the Cebuanos, they will grab it, because they have a sense of region already. But in your case, Constitution already establishes you as an autonomous region. It is just a plebiscite that is lacking.

So if you don’t value that, then the other people, the Bicolanos, the Kampampangans, the Cebuanos, even the people in Davao – they are struggling for federalism; there is a strong movement for federalism in Davao, as well as in Northern Mindanao, in Cagayan, because they want to chart their own separate future, in terms of determining their relationship with the center, meaning, they want to free up the energies of their people, in terms of economic development, in terms of progress, cultural rights. So I am wondering if the Cordillera, after 22 years, you’ll be in the stage of development wherein you’ll see the benefits of autonomy.

The ARMM experience not comparable to CAR’s

You cannot compare with ARMM. I’ll give you some examples. It does not put ARMM in a very good light but at least it will make you understand that even in the ARMM we are still struggling and still trying to achieve our autonomy.

In 2007, the Canadian International Development Agency conducted a study towards strengthening the fiscal capabilities of ARMM. The study confirms what most observers have said about the ARMM. That is, ARMM is completely dependent on the national government for its funding. As presented by the study, only P6M was raised internally by ARMM through taxes in 2005. Now why is this?

ARMM has no fiscal autonomy

Because even though in the organic act we have plenary powers for our Regional Assembly, Foreign Affairs, Defense, Postal, Election laws, we have plenary powers and a general welfare clause wherein we can create laws for the good of the people, even if it will violate the restrictions. What is lacking in our Organic Act is fiscal autonomy.

We cannot tax. We do not have national income taxes, we don’t have VAT, we don’t have excise taxes. What we have is revenue sharing: 70-30 in all the taxes of the region by national government. This means that seventy percent goes to the ARMM, 30% goes to the national government.

We have a poor tax base. Unlike you in the Cordillera, you have a big tax base. In your Organic Act, there is a provision there that revenues from mines and minerals will be 50-50. 50 percent goes to the national government, 50 percent goes to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao..

We cannot even pro-rata because our resources are not yet developed. In Cordillera you already have mines that are already developed, that are producing and earning income as well as paying taxes.

So imagine if 50 percent of those income already goes to your region. That’s a very big amount.

Plus you have a good tax base. You have the City of Baguio, your income taxes. The income taxes of your people, you can have 70 percent of that remitted back to an autonomous region. . So actually you can pay your own way.

Cordillerans complacent because they did not have to struggle for autonomy

I was saying to Director Navata, you are actually more viable as an autonomous region. And you’re lucky you don’t have to struggle for it. It’s already there in the Constitution. Parang binabalewala ninyo ang sinasabi na binigay sa inyo ng Constitution because binigay na; because you did not have to struggle for it.

So that is why you’re complacent. That’s why the Cebuanos are even thinking of creating an extended economic zone for the whole island of Cebu. Why, because they want more leverage, more freedom from the center, so that they can determine their own economic capacity, their own development strategies.

And you’re still looking at yourself. You’re still running after your own tail. You have to start already. Stop thinking about unity-unity. It will never come. It will come through the process. But you have to start.

At least ang common denominator niyo is you are an autonomous region; you have your own agenda already. Siguro puwede naman kayong mag-unite on that.

World Bank Study on the ARMM experience

So anyway, going back to the story of the ARMM. The World Bank said, central control of the vault of ARMM expenditures underline the governance issue on an autonomous regional government that has no more real or practical autonomy in deciding the level or allocation of funds intended to implement its mandate and that of other autonomous agencies of the national government.

What does this mean? It means that funding for the ARMM still comes from the national government. Plantilla positions of employees will not be abolished. It will still be retained. Because most of the budget of the ARMM for example is still for personnel: 86 percent. While the MOOE is just equal to the other regions.

But with that provision of revenue sharing, in our case, we are only able to get P600M a year. That is being allocated by the Regional Assembly. By the way, the regional assembly consists of 3 assemblymen, 4 in every congressional district. So kayong mga politicians, for example, you will have more political space. Kasi ngayon you’re all struggling to be mayors, congressmen, governors, but that’s very few. But if you have a Regional Assembly, those who want to be Congressmen can start in the Regional Assembly. So, for those who are concerned about joining politics, you can have your daughters, your sons to run for the Assembly.

And again, also in the autonomous region, we are free to create our own local government units. So if you want to divide your local government units into more than one, more cities, more municipalities, you can also do that.

But those are just the flexibilities of an autonomous region in the Organic Act.