Maglana: The President as project manager for Mindanao projects

THE then Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced on March 11 that the highest official of the land “wanted to be the project manager, even in Armm (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).”

This might just be one of those bold pronouncements for which President Rodrigo Duterte, the first president to have been elected directly from serving as city mayor, is known. Except that this one in particular is inconsistent with his 24 years of being a local government official, and his views on central-local relationships.

Ismael Sueno, who was sacked as DILG secretary by the President first week of April because of “lack of trust and confidence, “earlier claimed that in a Cabinet meeting, Pres. Duterte announced that he would be ‘taking over as project manager’ for Mindanao development projects ayaw niya na may (because he doesn't want a) part of our population that will lag behind in terms of development.”

The need for more concerted efforts to ensure Mindanao development cannot be debated. Many of the nation’s poorest provinces are in Mindanao.

Growth and progress have been hampered by conflicts and governance problems that displaced and alienated parts of the population. A number of initiatives like plantations for export and mining have proven to be more advantageous to elite and foreign interests, and injurious to communities and the environment.

In the course of history, Mindanawons suffered much harm that remain unaddressed, and which have come to be referred to as “historical injustices.” Mindanao certainly needs attention.

However, centralizing management responsibilities all the way back to Malacañang, or even Matina Enclaves or Panacañang, would not address the problems. It would even worsen the situation.

If the long wait for documents to be signed by the top executive of the country (remember how long it took to name and appoint the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, and the long list of those whose appointment documents remain pending), and the interminable wait for press conferences are indications, the vaunted “taking over” could end up becoming a bureaucratic nightmare.

Granting that the President was once again just being hyperbolic, and all he meant was that he was going to pay more attention to programs and projects in Mindanao, nonetheless there are ways of doing that without making more inutile the very bureaucracy that he wants reformed to address the “erosion of faith and trust in government,” which Pres. Duterte in his inaugural address as “the real problem that confronts us.”

Singling out the Armm at this point is unfortunate because the regional government since 2012 has made significant inroads in transforming governance, and pursuing peace and development.

Once synonymous with non-performance, a huge debt with the Government Social Insurance System (GSIS), and “ghost employees and ghost schools,” the Armm Regional Government strengthened internal operations of devolved agencies.

The P2.72 billion debt of DepEd-Armm with GSIS has been settled, and work continues on the remaining PhP200 million. Merit and fitness are now practiced in hiring, rather than “palakasan.”

That for the first time in its 25 years of existence the regional government was granted the Performance-Based Bonus in 2014isan emblematic achievement in Armm public administration. It signaled that good governance conditions are being met including online transparency, compliance with procurement law, and Citizens Charters, and the settlement of cash advances, among others.

The Armm Regional Government of today still has many challenges, particularly concerning local government performance; and it has yet to fully deliver on just peace and equitable development of the region.

But only more historical injustice would result from any reversal of the institutionalized recognition of the self-governance aspirations of the Bangsamoro.

Perhaps the Office of the President’s knowledge and assessment of Armm governance and developments need updating. Further, this alleged take-over by the Office of the President is a disservice to the 12.6 million voters of Mindanao, who have mandated local officials at the barangay, municipal/city and provincial levels to manage their areas of responsibility.

I am one of those who do not want the authorities and responsibilities of local officials clipped in favor of a higher office. My city mayor and other officials should not be hampered in their lawful fulfillment of the mandates and the platforms for which they were elected.

Rather than confusing constituents with hyperbole, change in and for Mindanao stands a better chance of being achieved if the President’s energies are directed at effective oversight over local governments; the provision of relevant, adequate and timely support; and pressing on with being uncompromising with those that erode faith and trust in government.

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