Kusog Mindanaw Chair Emeritus Lito Monico Lorenzana (R) and Datu Michael Mastura, President of Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy discuss federalism at the Kusog Mindanaw conference on Friday, 11 November 2022. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO Kusog Mindanaw Chair Emeritus Lito Monico Lorenzana (R) and Datu Michael Mastura, President of Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy discuss federalism at the Kusog Mindanaw conference on Friday, 11 November 2022. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO MindaNews

'Mindanao's revenge against imperial Manila is for BARMM to succeed' Featured

This feature article by the editor in chief of MindaNews, Carol O. Arguillas, published Nov. 13, 2022, is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

DAVAO CITY: The president of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI) lamented the death of the "idea of federalism" in the Philippines, but urged fellow Mindanawons to "concentrate on how to make the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) successful" because "Mindanao's revenge against imperial Manila is for BARMM to succeed."

Lito Monico Lorenzana, CDPI president, chairman emeritus of Kusog Mindanaw and a columnist of The Manila Times, said there must be a "criteria of success" for the BARMM because while it is "not federalism per se," it can be the "start of something that may produce federalism."

"I am sorry to say that we federalists are a dying breed. More importantly, our idea of federalism is dead. Is dead. Please don't send flowers," Lorenzana said during the panel discussion on the "Roadmap for Federalism as a Mindanao Agenda," at the Kusog Mindanaw Conference on November 11.

The high-level panel, with another federalist, Michael Mastura, former congressional representative of Maguindanao and president of the Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy, was tasked to "explore current developments and prospects in the House and the Senate on Charter change, particularly in the proposal for the shift to a federal system [and] generate steps that Mindanao advocates may take to help advance federalism."

The other panel members — Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, Senate majority leader during the Duterte administration and now Senate minority leader in the Marcos Jr. administration, and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Reforms — failed to attend the conference.

Lorenzana recalled how his fellow federalists, the late Abulkhayr Alonto and Reuben Canoy, opted for a Mindanao Independence Movement, noting that "if that caught fire, we would have been a federal Mindanao."

"The problem is we compromised. When we were in the cusp of an independent [Mindanao]," the national government feared it would lose the country's food basket and resource-rich area so it compromised, paving the way for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and later the BARMM, which Lorenzana described as "panakip butas" (substitute or replacement).

Duterte dropped the ball

"Federalism as we envision it is dead," Lorenzana stressed, adding that there was already a president from Mindanao "who went on to win because of federalism, after which he dropped the ball" and there is a president now, who ran under the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas but has not said anything about federalism.

Mastura noted how Duterte "started very well with that promise" of amending the Constitution to allow for a shift to a federal system from the presidential-unitary system. "But he (Duterte) did not pursue it," marking the "death of the federal advocacy."

On the fate of the federal advocacy under the present Marcos administration, Mastura said: "This president now... what is his party? Federal. Is he talking about federalism? Not yet, I think never. So what do we do with him? So I'm trying to rabble-rouse here. You know I am a rabble-rouser. Always been."

Mastura had advocated for a federal system while a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention.

He said he hopes Marcos "will pick up this idea of a federal setup immediately, while he is new in office."

Lorenzana said he does not see a silver lining, that they are "all frustrated" but hopes that from that frustration would emerge a seed of hope.

"That seed of hope is beginning to take ground. Or is that true?" he said, noting how the actor Robin Padilla, now an elected senator, is "on the right path" but has not called on the federalists to explain federalism to him.

"That guy never understood the wealth of wisdom between Mike and I for example... Robinhood has not even thought of talking to us. So, do you really think the guy will understand what federalism is? No, now if we have people like that in the highest echelon of government and does not even talk to those who understand federalism, then federalism is dead," he said.

Lorenzana's other woes are "there is no debate on federalism now" and "we have a president who ran under Federal and who does not know how to spell federal. Federalism is dead."

But in the latter part of his speech, Lorenzana said he saw some silver lining and "the silver linings here are the people."

'Good governance' root of federalism

He said the focus should now be on how to make BARMM succeed and a criteria of success of good governance in the BARMM must be made.

Among the "good governance" criteria he proposed are to "elevate" the poor in the region that hosts the poorest of the poor provinces by using simple poverty alleviation measures, peace and order, economic growth and food security.

"Talk about simple infrastructure build-up ... talk about how you can harness the OFW remittances, Simple things and that is how the BARMM will come up with something that is based on good governance" as this will "lead towards self-governance which is really the root of federalism."

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte, who gave the conference keynote address,, narrated her experience in Paquibato, Davao City, which was heavily influenced by communist rebels before.

"The antidote to war is good governance. And good governance builds public trust," she said. "That is something that I learned sa Paquibato. Good governance breeds public trust. When people see government officials working with integrity, with professionalism, and dedication to public service — they no longer see sense in causes that espouse violence."

Corruption is the enemy

At the turnover from ARMM to BARMM on Feb. 26, 2019, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, who would be referred to by his real name, Ahod Balawag Ebrahim while serving as interim chief minister, vowed that the region would be ruled by "moral governance," a government that will "really be free of all the ills of governance."

"Now we acknowledge that we are entering another level of our jihad. Our jihad will be more intense and more challenging, our jihad firstly will be against our own self," Murad said. "Our enemies are all the ills of governance... our enemy is graft and corruption, our enemy is the manipulation of government, our enemy is nepotism, our enemy is all those ills of government."

In his inaugural address on March 25, 2019, Murad had said: "Our leadership over the BARMM and the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) is an amanah, a trust given to us and a responsibility for which we have to account for. Let us always be conscious of the day when we shall be asked of how we fulfill the trust and discharge the responsibilities."

At the Kusog Mindanaw conference, calls were made for more transparency and accountability in the BARMM amid criticisms that some officials are engaging in "the ills of governance." MindaNews

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