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The 24 members of the Regional Assembly in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao were able to meet numerous high profile personalities during their 2009 seminar organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG). Among the guest speakers were Presidential Adviser Governor Jose Clemente Salceda, Former House Speaker Jose De Venecia, Senator Miguel Zubiri, Goethe Institute Director Richard Kuenzel, Former Senator Santanina Rasul, OPAPP Assistant Secretary Camilo Montesa, Congressmen Nur Ja’afar of Tawi-Tawi and Ma. Isabelle Climaco of the First District of Zamboanga City, ADB Country Specialist Mr. Joel Mangahas, Atty. Zainudin Malang, Executive Director of the Moro Policy Center, Atty. Ishak Mastura, Regional Cabinet Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, ARMM, and Mr. Ibrahim Mamao of the Al- Amanah Islamic Investment Bank. The seminar addressed economic issues and included a visit to the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) in Cavite.
Governor Joey Salceda of the Province of Albay started the ball rolling for the Assemblymen as the day’s discussion focused on the economy. He came up with a presentation of what he quoted as a “realization of the GDP scenario”. He outlined the current economic situation of the Philippines from the statistical data of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and said that “politics cannot be divorced from economics and that the best framework should be political economy”. He then challenged the Assemblymen present to borrow money from the government or financial institutions rather than wait for them to take their moves. He urged them to develop the needed technology to meet the demands and to produce their technocrats and so as to promote enlightened leadership. As what Governor would mention, it is not about money, it is about concrete actions and concrete results.
Sec. Norberto Gonzales of the National Security Council graced the event where he discussed why the ARMM’s distrust of the national government is becoming their waterloo. He stated that ‘the performance of the ARMM is the concern of the national government.” He further stressed his point by saying that “in this era of peace where arms are not anymore accepted as means for change, why can’t Bangsamoro speak for Bangsamoro?” He also proposed the development of technocracy in ARMM. He ended his speech by leaving the regional assembly with a few thoughts by proposing to put the Islamic social order in legislation.
Hon. Atty. Camilo Montesa, the Assistant Secretary, Peace Policy and Peace Building of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) opened the third day of discussion with his brief peace process update. He compared the problem of the Bangsamoro people to an iceberg. What others perceive particularly the media and stakeholders is just considered as a tip of the problem. He suggested that if the Bangsamoro people wish to solve the conflict they have to address it into three levels, the first being episodic, second there is a pattern and third it is historical. The perception of the people is the episodic or simply the recurrence of events or the surface level, second is the pattern by which a problem is discussed and lastly the historical level or the roots of the problem.
He also shared that one should not ponder why peace talks are not moving simply because there are no serious efforts from the stakeholders to discuss issues thoroughly. The MOA-AD was the first serious effort to tackle the historical aspect of the conflict although it did not materialize.
Ms. Amina Rasul of the PCID discussed what she sees as a problem why the peace talks in Mindanao are not moving in particular that the ARMM sector itself is divided. Politicians are suspicious of civil society groups with their aims and these groups on the other hand are thinking that these ARMM politicians are corrupt. She then challenged the Regional Assembly to push their powers to the limit to influence and mobilize the Bangsamoro people.
In the open forum, political power surfaced as one of the driving solutions for the Bangsamoro people to move forward. Hon. Atty. Montesa, Atty. Zainudin Malang and Ms. Rasul shared that if only all political powers in the ARMM would unite they will be a strong force that will definitely influence and move the government.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri presented the legislative agenda perspective of the Senate. Senator Zubiri presented the Senate Bill No. 2089, otherwise known as the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Act of 2008 to the Regional Assembly, Senate Bill No.2941 also known as the Mindanao Economic Development Authority(MEDA) Act, Senate Bill No. 3187: National Holiday for the Observance of Eidul Adha . He enumerated the objectives of the said Senate Bills and the proposed creation of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and the Mindanao Economic Development Authority.
Senator Zubiri emphasized in his presentation that “peace and development should not only be for our Christian brothers but for our Muslim brothers as well.” He also stated the importance of Mindanao to the Philippines and even elaborated this point by saying that “hindi mabubuhay ang Pilipinas kapag wala ang Mindanao” (The Philippines cannot survive without Mindanao.)
Two House Representatives shared their legislative agendas in Congress.
Tawi- Tawi Representative Nur Ja’afar explained his proposals in the House of Representatives that would benefit the ARMM region and its people. First, he explained his proposed House Bill number 4963 stating that the current ARMM region should be divided into two autonomous regions considering ethnicity and geography and not religion as criteria for the regions to be established. According to Hon. Ja’afar “if we are to progress let us divide this present autonomous system into two, let us compete and although we are all Muslims we differ in our values and traditions.” In his proposal, he wanted to divide the region in to southwestern and central Mindanao. He stressed continuity and respect to the peoples’multi-ethnicity and cultural diversities as factors to promote harmony and structural reforms to the present government. He also shared bills on mariculture projects in Tawi-Tawi, bills to promote environmental awareness and preservation and a bill to expand the Sharia court and be accessible to the ethnic tribes.
Rep. Ma. Isabelle Climaco of the First District of Zamboanga discussed the Human Development Index citing 7 Mindanao provinces listed as the poorest including Sulu, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Zamboanga de Norte, Saranggani and Lanao Del Sur. She said “what is due for Mindanao should be given to Mindanao.”
Father Eliseo Mercado, OMI, the Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance concluded the momentous gathering by advising the Regional Assembly that they are the new lives and hopes of the Autonomous Region therefore they should be more willing to be at service. He challenged them to be committed to their people, to have an ambition of modelling the region and to promote interreligious dialogues as Father Mercado mentioned, “it is about stretching our hands and moving out whether you are a Christian or a Muslim.”