Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Mindanao must ‘secede’ from central govt

Business Mirror

That may seem like a provocative title for an “Outside the Box” column but it is not mine. It is the title of a column published on the Advocacy Mindanow Foundation Inc. website written by Atty. Jess G. Dureza.

If you are not familiar with Jess Dureza, let me assure you that this man is the ultimate guide to all things Mindanao, from its political landscape through Mindanao’s economy. Mr. Dureza was an appointed “presidential adviser” to both Presidents Ramos and Arroyo and was and is a crucial participant in the long ongoing peace talks between the government and the various separatist factions in Mindanao. He served as chairman of both the Mindanao Development Authority and the Mindanao Economic Development Council. A former member of Congress, Mr. Dureza understands the political process and the realities of working through that process. His grassroots economic expertise may be found in his appointment as a director of the Philippine Coconut Authority and his position as National Program director for the United Nations Development Program–ACT For Peace Program.

I know that the above paragraph sounds like a press release for Jess Dureza, but I want you to know who this man is because when someone of his qualifications and expertise talks about Mindanao, someone better listen.

Allow me to quote from Mr. Dureza’s column. “It’s about time that Mindanao must insist to charter its own course in history. Mindanao must now ‘secede’ from the central government. Lest someone accuses me of treason, let me immediately and categorically state that the ‘secession’ I am espousing for is not from the Republic but secession from the central government which is Manila. It is not to declare Mindanao independent from the Philippines, although that would have been most desirable to many. But rather, it is to effect constitutional changes so that Mindanao runs its own affairs, determines its own future, and removes itself from being under the skirt of imperial Manila. I may be oversimplifying this, but that’s what the shift to a federal system of government is all about. I have spent the best part of my life working for the national government and serving Mindanao in various capacities through different administrations. And I have closely witnessed the inutility or the tragic inability of even well-meaning leaders to give Mindanao what it rightfully deserves.

“I am convinced more than ever that Mindanao’s collective effort over these years for more attention from the central government is futile unless we radically change the setup. One of the ways of moving forward is to ‘go federal.’ I call it ‘secession in moderation.’ This way, Mindanao can run its affairs and be solely responsible for its future. If we do good, well and good. If we screw up, then it’s our own lookout.”

Those are probably the strongest and clearest words possible, written in the interest of self-determination and community responsibility.

Mr. Dureza goes on to speak of the postponement of elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), but makes a very interesting and thought-provoking analysis of the ARMM. “If this [the ARMM and ‘the struggle for deliverance from a highly centralized setup’] is, indeed, good and desirable for the Bangsa-
moro, then it must equally be good for all Mindanaoans, the non-Muslims included. So, what then is the take of the non-Bangsamoro sector of Mindanao? Otherwise stated, if the Muslims of Mindanao are struggling and fighting for self-determination, then why are the Christians and non-Muslim sectors of Mindanao not also as assertive?”

I cite Mr. Dureza’s column because of statements made by noted economist Bernardo Villegas during a recent speech before the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry where he implored for support of changes to the economic provisions of the Philippine Constitution. From the Inquirer: Villegas “disagreed with views that corruption was the reason for widespread poverty in the Philippines, insisting that the prime cause was neglect of rural and agricultural development.”

What is somewhat startling about these comments is that “rural and agricultural development” has been a cornerstone of every Philippine administration and sadly all the policies have not been successful. The one common denominator has been that the policies have ultimately been “Manila-controlled” no matter how much local input and local oversight has been in place.

At a meeting of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Chowking’s original owner Robert Kuan said the government had no concrete plan to address the country’s problems and how to move forward. “I don’t see any direction yet,” said Kuan, who is now chairman of the St. Luke’s Medical Center. “[President Aquino] has to have a vision of what will happen to the country during his incumbency. The success of an individual or a certain company is [in] having a vision and direction.”

I personally see this, not as an indictment of the Aquino administration per se but illustrative of the time-honored concept of “Imperial Manila.”

It is important to note that virtually every study by the United Nations of rural development shows that when the policy initiatives have been conceptualized, created, planned, formulated, implemented and made responsible at the most local level, they are successful.

Look, it only makes sense. As much as I respect Jess Dureza, I do not think he is qualified and I would not want him to be a major participant in my local community’s efforts at solving our flood-control problem. We know where the water comes from, we know where it goes, and we know where we want it go. And Mr. Dureza does not want or need Manila telling Mindanao how to improve its economy and deal with its own problems.

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