IN FEBRUARY 2011, no less than the highest official of the land was quoted as having said that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) was a “failed experiment in terms of the aspirations of the Filipino people to give justice to our Muslim brothers.” At that time, Malacañang was championing the postponement of the Armm elections originally scheduled for August of the same year and its synchronization with the national and local polls in 2013.

With the passage of RA 10153, the Armm election was postponed and Armm Regional Government (ARG) officers-in-charge were appointed headed by OIC Regional Governor Mujiv S. Hataman. The 2013 election results gave Governor Hataman the mandate to become a full-pledged chief executive of the ARG.

Around the same period of time, the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) accelerated with the formulation and approval of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its annexes. The FAB, in turn, led to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro or CAB and with it, the implementation of a transition process that includes a transitional government takeover of Armm by 2015.

During the course of the formulation of the FAB and annexes, I heard reference to the Armm-as-failed-experiment numerous times, a few of them from officials of the ARG past and present, that it sounded like it was an accepted truism.

One can understand why. After all, the Armm has been in existence for a quarter of a century now. Given what it was to overcome in terms of improving the living conditions of the population and demonstrating autonomy, good governance and inclusion, and given the resources provided to the region, the assessment that the ARG has not significantly delivered for most of the years it has been in operation would not be unfounded.

And yet, things have been changing in the ARG, and I am not just referring to the inevitable change in names and faces of the top management that inevitably happens with each new term.

There are many observable improvements in the day to day operations of the regional government.

Regional planning, programming and budgeting are more aligned and coherent; simply put, the declared priorities are those that get funded. This is a big change from past practices where the so-called agenda are not the same items reflected in the investment plans.

The focus on results goes beyond the use of metrics-focused performance management systems like the OPIF and SPMS; progress in implementation and achievement of targets is periodically reported through the Internet, mass media and other channels. Despite the short period of time, the ARG has tried to report against measurements like increase in investments and productivity. One can see a direct contrast with past practices of news releases featuring mostly ribbon-cutting, MOU-signing, other inaugural ceremonies and not much else.

The personnel hiring process, particularly in education which accounts for about 25,000 of the 35,000 workforce of the ARG, has demonstrated very dramatic shifts. The consistent use of policies and processes has helped move hiring away from its previous very politicized and patronage-oriented nature where appointments had to be bought at high prices.

And where in the past convergence of delivery of services by regional agencies was mostly at the discussion level, the ARG's record from 2013 to 2014 in actual provision of health, education, livelihood and peace through convergence and synergy has improved.

When asked what made these changes possible within a short period of time, a high official of the ARG attributed it to three factors: the crop of relatively young and reform-oriented executives, the leadership of the Regional Governor, and the timely reforms in national processes, as well as support from National Government.

These ARG executives and leaders are laboring with full knowledge that regardless of what they accomplish, they would still be considered part of a failed experiment. Much of what they have put in place that are reform and performance-oriented could still be undone or set aside when the Bangsamoro Government takes over. But they are offering very concrete gains and experiences and lessons that ought not to be ignored.

Another layer of the failed Armm experiment that need revisiting is that of local governance. Among the structural weaknesses of the current Armm is the relative non-involvement of local governments in service delivery, which became the role of the regional agencies. Where elsewhere LGUs were at the forefront of delivering or facilitating services to communities, in Armm LGUs played limited roles. This led to the unfortunate situation where in the face of growing and complex needs of citizens and stakeholders, Armm regional bodies had the mandate but insufficient resource, while LGUs had resources to invest but could point to fuzzy mandates as an excuse for not focusing on serving the social, economic, environmental, cultural and other requirements of their communities.

The thing about failed experiments is that on them often rest the stuff from which successes are made. The Armm failed experiment, particularly the episode from 2013 to 2015, has to be studied rather than ignored to derive lessons needed by the Bangsamoro peoples to move forward in the next phase of their continuing journey.

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