ARMM’s fiscal limitations

Now, in our case, we lack fiscal autonomy because one: the limitations of our taxes. We cannot create tax. But also, central to it is, we have a poor tax base. What the Organic Act only provides is the sharing: 70-30 for national taxes, 50-50 for revenues in terms of mines and minerals, but we lack mines and minerals that are fully developed.

Now, with regards mines and minerals, this is a sensitive issue in the Cordillera region. Actually, for your businessmen, it would be better to have an autonomous region because they don’t have to go to Manila to obtain permits and licenses. Plus the relationship to the people is much closer because sometimes, the people in Manila do not understand the needs of the people on the ground. And even the miners, the multinationals, will have an easier time dealing with the local government, the regional government.

In the case of ARMM, we actually have control over mines and minerals, except for strategic resources, meaning oil, hydropower, uranium, and gold, copper, nitrogen. The only problem is the Mines and Geosciences Bureau has not been devolved to the autonomous region. But we can actually create our own law. The Regional Assembly can actually do it, but we are not doing it because we are really dependent on the national government.

Problems on peace and order

We still have problems. As you know, we are still are a conflict-affected region so we cannot fully function as an autonomous region because our lifeline, our lifeblood, is the national government when it comes to operation of the autonomous government.

In the case of the Cordillera, you have peace and order, you have all the ingredients in terms of human capital, in terms of resources, and you have less of insurgency. So your direction, your dynamics, can go towards the development of your people. Unlike for us it is a life and death struggle from time to time because of insurgency.

Nevertheless, the study that I talked about presents the true picture of the state of fiscal autonomy of ARMM. Benedicto Bacani writes,

The ARMM which is supposed to be the vehicle of Moro self-determination is recognized right now as less autonomous than local governments, such that it is now more subservient and dependent on the national government than any other political subdivision of the country.

Bacani asked us the relevant question regarding ARMM the answer to which the study provides an inkling, to wit:

Is ARMM merely a development body, an employment agency for Moro leaders, or is it supposed to be an instrument of moral self-determination?”

Findings of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

What then is the role of national government in a meaningful autonomy? The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development suggest some solutions:

In the nation building approach, the central government’s move from a decision-making role in indigenous affairs to a resource role. In practical terms, that role involves the following:

a. a programmatic focus on institutional capacity building made by native nations with the development of governmental infrastructure that is organized for self-rule, respecting indigenous political culture and capable of governing wealth

b. a shift from program funding to block grants, thereby putting decisions about priorities in indigenous hands. The development of programs that reflect the idea that the need and concerns of the native nations as well.

c. a shift from consultation to partnership in which native nations and outside government make joint decisions where the interest of all are involved.

d. Recognition that self-governing nations will make mistakes, but what does sovereignty mean if not the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development concludes that:

One of the most difficult things for non-indigenous governments to do is to repress the natives’ control over the native nations. But this control is the core problem to development and a primary hindrance to reservation prosperity. As long non-indigenous governments insist on calling the shots within their country, they must hold responsibility as well to indigenous poverty.

So that is the experience in America, with the American Indian nations. And in their case, three things are necessary, according to the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development:

1. Economic development is a political issue; it is a political question. That’s why practical sovereignty is important. Mechanisms to self-governance is important.

2. Second, we must have good governance.

3. Third, it must have legitimacy through the practice of the Moro people, meaning if you have indigenous practices here, it must be integrated in your form of government, in your self-governance structures.

The pursuit of autonomy is a struggle

So there, autonomy is a struggle. A struggle against the center. A struggle against the traditional ways and means by which this country has been governed.

But I believe that your Cordillera Administrative Region can actually be more of a model for the rest of the country. And in your case you are lucky. It is already granted by the Constitution, while the Cebuano people, the Bicolanos, the Kapampangans, the Ilocandia, they’ll have to struggle for their own movement for local authority or local self-rule.

Now in saying these things, I am not advocating for ethnic state. Ethnic state is like Israel. Israel is a Jewish state. Its character is a Jewish state. This was actually the debate in forming the State of Nunavut in Canada. The Inuits or Eskimos in Canada were claiming the northwest territory which is actually a very big chunk of land in North Canada. It’s all wasteland, all ice, but it has lots of oil and other mineral resources waiting to be tapped.

So what the Inuits did in terms of negotiating with the government, is, they said, we give up a huge portion of the land, of the Northwest territory in order to have a predominantly Inuit or Eskimo state. But it was not an ethnic state. It does not mean it was only for the Eskimos. Because in creating the predominantly Eskimo or Inuit State, in terms of population, demographics, there were still minority groups there. And as a democratic state, they would respect the minority rights.

So in your case also, you are a mixture of people from different places, both more the lowlands and the highlands. And you cannot avoid dominant groups here. That’s not going to happen. In the different Cordilleran provinces you have different dominant groups. Just like in the ARMM. We have the Maranaos in Lanao, we have the Maguindanaos in Maguindanao. In Sulu we have the Tausugs, in Tawi-tawi in Sulu, In Basilan we have the Yakans. But we have finally managed to get together and form an autonomous region.

The struggle for autonomy: a fire in the belly

So there is no excuse for you. But you have to feel it. But if you do not feel it, I’m sorry. I’m wasting my time speaking of autonomy for you. The fire must be in your belly. It should not come from us. And we should not be teaching you what to do, or how to do it, in terms of your autonomy.

You know best for your own people. And I think that’s all about the principle of subsidiary, meaning decisions must be made at the lowest common denominator so that it is effective, it is able to deliver. That is also the very principle of federalism.

Autonomous Cordillera can be a model for other regions

But if you make it as an autonomous region, you will also be helping the other regions determine the future of this country. Because we will now have two models: we have an autonomous region in Mindanao that is still evolving; we still have the GRP-MILF peace process which wants autonomy to be the product of negotiation. We still need the governed consent of the Moro people, represented by the Moro Liberation Movement.

At the same time we have the CAR, which is a more peaceful region. You have to study the struggles of the Basques as well as the Catalunyan people of Spain. Catalunyans also have their own self-determination movement, but it is a very subtle self-determination movement. It wasn’t a separatist struggle, or an armed struggle. In the beginning there were some clashes of that, but theirs is more of an internal struggle. They are also trying to define their relationship with the center, meaning Madrid. Their struggle is more of the parliamentary kind, they keep on moving, advancing their cause self-determination, for more autonomy, within the Spanish state.

Study earlier models of self-determination

So these are models that you have to look at and study. You have to do your own research. In the case of the Moro, we always have been doing research, doing lots of studies, but I have to tell you, the Moro conflict, the Mindanao conflict, the issue of autonomy there, is much larger and much more complex.

I need more time for an Open Forum because then we can gauge your fears and sentiments. So that we will know what is it that you really want.

So thank you very much and I hope that we have inspired you to have your own autonomy.