Yet still no peace, no progress for Moros

By Charmaine P. Lirio

IT WAS created to ensure that its peoples would no longer be left behind in development and that they would finally enjoy peace. Yet more than 25 years after its creation, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) remains unable to deliver on its twin objectives.

ARMM represents about four percent of the country’s population, based on 2010 figures. It comprises five provinces, two cities, 116 municipalities, and 2,490 barangays. The five provinces are Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

Infighting among clans, clashes between the Philippine military and Muslim insurgents, and the activities of lawless elements have made for a tense and uneasy ARMM populace. Unsurprisingly, ARMM has failed to prosper, and official statistics make this all the more apparent.

FIGHTERS of the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao. PCIJ file photo published on October 2012

FIGHTERS of the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao | PCIJ file photo published on October 2012

President Corazon C. Aquino signed into law Republic Act No. 6734 (the Organic Act of ARMM) on Aug. 1, 1989. On Nov. 17, 1989, a plebiscite was conducted in the proposed areas of ARMM but only four provinces – Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulu opted to join it. Exactly 25 years ago on Feb. 17, 1990, Zacaria Candao won the first election for ARMM; he assumed office as the first ARMM regional governor on July 6, 1990.

On Sept. 2, 1996, President Fidel V. Ramos signed a Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that led to the election of MNLF chairman Nur Misuari as ARMM regional governor.

In September 2001, at a plebiscite conducted for the ratification of Republic Act No. 9054 on the expansion of ARMM, Basilan and the Islamic City of Marawi voted to be part of the regional government.

GOVERNMENT troops deployed in Mindanao | PCIJ File Photo

GOVERNMENT troops deployed in Mindanao | PCIJ File Photo

In the November 2001 elections for ARMM, Dr. Farouk Hussien won as Regional Governor for the expanded ARMM and assumed office in January 2002.

However, in the subsequent elections in 2005 and 2008, Arroyo’s political lieutenant, Datu Zaldy Ampatuan won as regional governor, while his son Datu Zaldy Ampatuan won as governor of Maguindanao province.

After the Ampatuans were charged for the massacre of 58 persons, including 32 media workers in what has been called “the Maguindanao massacre” of Nov. 23,2 009, ARMM regional vice governor Ansaruddin Alonto became ARMM Governor in acting capacity.

FORMER ARMM governor and MNLF chairman Nur Misuari | PCIJ File Photo

FORMER ARMM governor and MNLF chairman Nur Misuari | PCIJ File Photo

But five governors and 25 years hence, ARMM has consistently remained the poorest region in the Philippines. Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur have always landed on the National Statistical Coordination Board’s list of top 10 poorest provinces since 2000. The numbers barely move as years pass. In ARMM, over half the number of families cannot afford basic needs such as food, housing, and clothing. By comparison, at the national level, one in four families is poor.

In 2009, the Philippines had a Human Development Index (HDI) value of .609, which placed it in the “medium human development” category. ARMM’s Human Development Index value, meanwhile, was at .35, which put it under the “low human development” level.

AN ARTILLERY unit of the Armed Forces in Mindanao | PCIJ File Photo

The HDI is an alternate way of measuring progress by assessing human development through life expectancy, years of schooling, and income. ARMM’s HDI was at the level of African countries such as Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. These African countries had Gross Domestic Product per capita of anywhere between $400 and $700, whereas the Philippines posted at least $2,700.

Among the 17 regions in the Philippines, ARMM posted the lowest simple and functional literacy rate at 82 percent and 72 percent, respectively, in 2013. Simple literacy is the ability of a person to read and write with understanding a simple message in any language or dialect. Functional literacy includes numeracy and all the life skills and knowledge a person needs to survive and function in a society.

The 2012 data of the Department of Education showed that more than two pupils shared a seat in ARMM when seats had already been adequate for pupils at the national level.

MULTIMEDIA: Slideshow of photos taken by journalist Jose Jaime Espina on 2009, a year after fighting broke out between government forces and the Moto Islamic Liberation Front after the Supreme Court struck down the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Worst, the 2011 DepEd data indicated less than a quarter of the students completed their elementary education in ARMM. The lowest survival rate was recorded in Marawi City and Tawi-Tawi at merely eight percent. – PCIJ, February 2015

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