Reforming the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is far from over. But with the reelection of Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman, getting there might be sooner than what the Bangsamoro and the entire Philippines expect.
Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur Tan gave Hataman’s camp something to be worried in the beginning of the campaign period. With all the endorsements Tan got from influential political groups, he gained some ground in areas where he shouldn’t be. He was getting noticed. At some point, he seemed to be the popular choice.
However, the Bangsamoro people have spoken. Leading with more than 500,000 votes, the Basilan native didn’t have any reason to be worried after all. This overwhelming lead only means that Hataman can assume the office with confidence, knowing that majority of the Bangsamoro people still trust his administration.
Hataman’s proclamation on Saturday, May 14, as ARMM’s Regional Governor is his go signal to officially continue the once impossible mission of reforming a “failed experiment.”
Hataman’s key to victory
His victory is no surprise at all. His administration is arguably the best thing that ever happened to ARMM and the results of the election showed that the ARMM voters recognize that. His reform agenda addressing the socioeconomic and political challenges of the region has been instrumental for his campaign. Since he first assumed the office 5 years ago, ARMM has never been the same. (READ: ARMM: Failed experiment no more)
His administration made real actual reforms happen.
From 2012-2015, P12.47 billion ($267 million) worth of investments entered the region, the biggest ever recorded, which opened 11 million jobs. Revenue collection has also continuously increased from P737.6 million ($15.8 million) in 2011 to P1.688 billion ($36.17 million) in 2015.
It was during his administration that ARMM, for the first time in the region’s history, passed the government’s Good Governance Conditions (GGC) – a recognition that proves that reforms in governance are working. This only shows that there are significant steps that are already being done to counter certain malpractices in the government. True enough, it was his administration that bravely addressed the problem on “ghost” teachers and government employees. Their removal from the payroll allowed the ARMM government to save more than P200 million ($4.285 million) in 2012. He sure made a lot of enemies with this move, but the votes show that he gained even more supporters.
The long list of reforms were pivotal in one of the biggest gains of ARMM under the Hataman’s administration – ARMM’s budget hike. From P10.4 billion ($222.8 million) in 2010, ARMM’s budget for 2016 was nearly tripled to P29.4 billion ($630 million). With this, more funds would be allocated to different social services and construction of various infrastructures of the region.
With his reelection and everything that he has established for the past 5 years, the Bangsamoro people can only expect the best.
The future of the peace process
Despite the failure of President Benigno Aquino III’s administration to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the other consequences brought by the Mamasapano incident, the peace process is in good hands under Hataman’s administration.
No other Moro political leader has been more vocal about his support for the passage of BBL than him. He had continuously called on Congress to support the BBL and will continue to do so. Even during the hearings for the Mamasapano incident, he has been firm about his stand on the issue. He knows it’s the only way.
Growing up in Sumisip, Basilan, a place known for violent clashes between armed rebel groups and the Armed Forces, Hataman understands well the importance of the peace process. He is therefore not only a man of research, but more importantly, a man of experience.
This is not only good for ARMM but for the country as well.
Hataman’s role in the peace process as the ARMM governor is crucial for its continued success. With his relationship to the MILF and with other groups, he is someone who will not stay on the sidelines. Little had been reported about his contributions in pacifying the building tensions in the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident.
I had the chance to interview him for a political ad during the campaign period. When asked about his plans for the peace process, he emphasized why the next government should prioritize BBL. Moreover, he also thinks that there is a need to educate the Bangsamoro people, especially the youth, about the history of the Bangsamoro struggle.
He believes that the only way to gain more support for BBL is when people understand where it is coming from. Admittedly, this is more challenging than it looks given the current situation of the peace process. It will take more than speaking in the halls of the Senate and the House of Representatives or even an interview with Boy Abunda to convince people why BBL matters.
As a peace advocate himself, he has the patience needed for this peace process to move forward and eventually succeed.
What his next steps should be
Despite the significant gains of ARMM under Hataman’s administration, the region is far from fixed. One thing he needs to really focus on moving forward is alleviating poverty in the region.
Sadly, ARMM still remains as one of poorest regions in the country. According to the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) of the Philippine Statistics Authority, 3 of the 5 provinces of ARMM are on the top 5 provinces with the highest number of poverty incidence.
Lanao del Sur ranked first with 74.3%. This is quite alarming as the number increased by 7 percentage points, or from 67.3% in 2014. Sulu was a close second with 65.7%, while Maguindanao ranked fifth with 59.4%.
Whatever his economic plans for the region will be, Hataman needs to make sure that the gains will reach the grassroots level. The people need more than the benefits they get from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). Reducing the poverty rate in the region means creating more stable jobs. People need to start depending on themselves. We cannot rely on a conditions cash grant for people to improve their lives.
In a press conference held on May 11 in Cotabato City, Hataman emphasized that alleviating poverty in the region will be the focus of his administration if he was reelected.
As challenging as it may seem, ARMM’s economic achievements for the past years will be significant in Hataman’s poverty reduction plan. The increased number of investment, better revenue collection, and the budget hike for will make this mission a little less complicated for Hataman’s administration.
Reducing poverty will be all about a lot of things. But with his all-around reform agenda, which has been very successful in the past years, Hataman is capable of surprising everyone – something that he has been doing since he became ARMM governor in 2011.
What he needs from the Bangsamoro people
More than the number of votes he received, what Hataman’s administration needs is genuine support from the Bangsamoro people. His administration can do only as much as his reforms can deliver, but without genuine support, these reforms will all be for nothing.
“Bangsamoro higit sa sarili (Bangsamoro more than oneself),” is his administration’s mantra. However, I believe this should also be the mantra of every Moro. After all, the Bangsamoro struggle is not only the interest of a few. It is an issue which, in one way or another, affects every Moro in the country. The mantra simply means we should put the region’s interest first before our own selves. It also means, in whatever way we can, we should be contributing something to benefit the region.
The elected leaders of different LGUs across ARMM need to equally contribute as well. They need to respond to their communities’ own issues that have to be prioritized. Their response to reducing crime rate, drug abuse and addiction, and corruption is long overdue. This time, more than ever, is when they should finally address the problem in its roots. Everyone knows they should start with themselves.
The ARMM government, just like any other local government, is also a limited entity. For the entire region to succeed, it will require collaboration with each stakeholder. Despite the differences, as complicated as it can be sometimes, I hope the Bangsamoro people can truly unite for the sake of the region.
The reelection of Mujiv Hataman as ARMM Regional Governor can mean a lot of things to different people. But for me, it means a deep sigh of relief knowing that the region can keep moving forward. With Hataman’s leadership, I know the region will continue to surprise everyone. What his administration has done to the region for a short period of time has been unimaginable for many years. Imagine what he can do with more years in public service. I can only be excited.
I wish the regional governor and his entire administration well. I hope, years from now, we will get to the place where every Moro deserves to be. – Rappler.com
Nizam Pabil is a program manager of the Bangsamoro Young Leaders Program. He is also an executive assistant at the office of the ARMM Regional Governor. This article was first published on his blog.
*$1 = P46.67