MANILA, Philippines – Six months after President Benigno Aquino III signed the law postponing elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), he has finally chosen a caretaker governor. Aquino’s ally and partymate, former Anak Mindanao partylist Rep. Mujiv Hataman, is the officer-in-charge governor tasked to lead reforms in the region.
“Nalaman ko noong Wednesday or Thursday lang. Natanggap ko ang appointment papers signed Nov. 29,” Hataman told Rappler.com. (I only found out last December 14 or 15, Wednesday or Thursday. I received my appointment papers signed on Nov. 29.)
Hataman, 39, is one of the youngest to head the ARMM since its creation in 1989. He is also the first from Basilan to head the region that also includes the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
Hataman will take his oath of office before Aquino in Malacañang this week, and in turnover ceremonies at the ARMM complex in Cotabato. Last week, Hataman took his oath before Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo. The DILG was in charge of the screening process for ARMM officers-in-charge.
In media interviews, Robredo said Aquino chose Hataman “because he can balance. He is accepted both by politicians and non-government organizations.”
Aside from Hataman, Aquino appointed Bainon Karon as officer-in-charge vice governor. Karon is a former Social Welfare Secretary for ARMM and heads the Women’s Committee of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Calling ARMM a failed experiment, Aquino and his allies in Congress pushed for the postponement of polls there set on August 8, 2011 to synchronize it with the May 13, 2013 national midterm elections. In the interim, the administration wants appointed officers-in-charge to implement reforms like cleaning the voters’ list, improving the delivery of basic services, and addressing lawlessness.
Pre-empting the Supreme Court?
In appointing Hataman, Aquino decided not to wait for the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the appeal on the legality of the ARMM polls synchronization law.
The tribunal has yet to decide on the motion for reconsideration filed in November by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), former Tawi-Tawi governor Almarim Centi Tillah, and Datu Casan Conding.
The petitioners appealed the decision of the court in October to lift the temporary restraining order on the law.
Supreme Court Spokesperson Midas Marquez has clarified that the Palace must wait for the final decision of the tribunal before it can appoint OICs. Yet Hataman said the Palace believes there is no legal impediment to the appointment.
“The TRO was already lifted. It was the only thing that restrained the appointment. I think Malacañang waited for the Supreme Court to issue a final ruling, thinking it will decide within 15 days but it’s taking time. There’s no reason not to appoint [OICSs],” Hataman said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Hataman believes that his appointment has nothing to do with the row between the executive and the judiciary. “Their rift intensified in December but I was appointed in November. The legal argument of the Palace is convincing. I don’t see any relation with their tiff.”
‘Time not an issue’
Aquino and Hataman were colleagues in Congress and supported impeachment complaints against then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In 2010, Hataman campaigned for Aquino and ran for Basilan governor under his Liberal Party but lost.
Even before he got his appointment papers last week, Hataman said he and Aquino already met to discuss his appointment.
“He is really serious about reforming ARMM. He told me I must fix the region, focus on reforms in governance, livelihood, and peace and security.”
Aquino also instructed Hataman to start the groundbreaking of infrastructure projects funded by the P72 billion stimulus package the president approved.
Hataman is preparing his transition to take on ARMM’s top post. By January, he said he will lead the inauguration of a “social contract” among the regional government, local governments, civil society and citizens to work for reforms in ARMM.
His priorities are:
- implement a general amnesty to stop the proliferation of loose firearms,
- convene the regional Peace and Order Council and develop an internal security plan,
- support the passage of a regional Freedom of Information Act,
- address political dynasty and electoral violence by negotiating with clans to enter into a “shared power” agreement,
- ask the Comelec for a general registration and use of biometrics,
- push for an honest census and accounting of ARMM funds and projects
ARMM’s OIC governor has only 16 months left to work on the administration’s planned reforms but he said that will do. “Time is not an issue. It’s political will. ARMM has been around for 22 years but what did the past leaders do?”
Bombing, diploma and ‘dirty politics’
A native of Sumisip, Basilan, Hataman will assume the post of OIC governor after completing three terms in Congress from 2003 to 2010. As a lawmaker, he authored the anti-discrimination bill and investigated alleged human rights violations and discrimination of fellow Muslims. He was a member of the minority, and allied with militant party-list groups.
His political career, though, was marred when he was implicated but later cleared in the 2007 Batasan bombing that killed then Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar, his clan’s political rival. Hataman started out as Akbar’s senior executive assistant but the two later had a falling out.
Hataman insists that the allegation that he is the blast’s mastermind is a result of dirty politics. “Maiintindihan ko kung kami ang pagdududahan, siyempre magkalaban kami sa pulitika eh … Pero never sa history namin with sila Akbar, even ilang elections na, na merong nagkapatayan, wala pa so far.” (I understand why they accused us, of course, our families are political rivals but never has it happened in our history that there was killing. There has been none so far.)
The former congressman also dismissed criticism that his failure to finish college makes him unfit for the post. Hataman dropped out of his Computer Engineering course in AMA Computer College in the early nineties to go full-time as an activist, community organizer, and NGO worker.
“Ilang abogado na [ang nilagay diyan eh], mga dating ambassador? Si [former governors Zacaria] Candao, [Liningding] Pangandaman, mga lawyer iyan, mga diplomats iyan halos lahat. Si [Nur] Misuari, propesor. Kaya sabi ko, hindi eh, hindi kailangang ganoon eh,” said Hataman. (How many lawyers, former ambassadors have been appointed in ARMM? We have former governors Zacaria Candao, Liningding Pangandaman. Almost all of the former governors are lawyers, former diplomats. You have Nur Misuari, a professor. That’s why I’m saying I don’t need to be like them.)
“Kumbaga, merong peculiarity ang ARMM na kahit alam mo pa, kahit alam mo ang problema, alam mo ang gagawin, ‘pag wala ka ring courage at political will, ang tingin ko, wala ring mangyayari.” (The ARMM has a peculiarity that even if you know the problem, the solution, if you lack courage and political will, I think nothing will still happen.) – Rappler.com