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BOL and BARMM: Hope and high expectations

"Will the MILF’s leaders use BARMM’s abundant resources effectively?"

 

I believe that the great majority of Filipinos will agree with the statement that one of the greatest failures among the institutions brought into being by the 1987 Constitution has been the autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao. After nearly 24 years of the existence of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), the territories covered by ARMM—five provinces, one city and a number of municipalities and barangays­—have remained among the poorest parts of the Republic. Indeed, for political theorists and development experts alike, ARMM has been close to being a big joke.

Last week, the population of ARMM, in a plebiscite, ratified BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law), which provided for the establishment of BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) to replace ARMM. The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) pushed very hard for BOL’s ratification, combining their formidable resources to ensure approval by the ARMM population of a document that in many respects is truly landmark in character.

The core message of the pro-BOL campaign was that ARMM was a colossal failure and that BARMM would be a replacement that was far superior and that would usher in, finally, a life of prosperity, well-being and contentment for the people of Muslim Mindanao.

That campaign pitch has been followed, in the post-plebiscite, by all sorts of hype-type statements emanating from the officials of the Duterte administration and other BOL advocates. In chorus fashion, all of them have said that peace and order will reign now that Mindanao’s Muslims have a document establishing their political identity. Governance will be much better, with regional resources more judicially used. The Duterte administration’s economic managers see a sharp rise in investments—foreign and domestic—with improved peace conditions and the advent of better governance. And the tourism-sector officials have completed the hype by foreseeing a surge in tourism once the BARMM government has taken office.

The change in the economic fortunes of BARMM/ARMM envisioned by BOL’s advocates is breathtaking in its character and scope. From being an impoverished, badly governed part of this country’s second-largest island. BARMM/ARMM is expected, with the strokes of the voters’ pens, to be transformed into a well-governed, smoothly running and high-growth piece of God’s earth.

Is this a realistic prospect? Will the BARMM created by BOL really be the realization of every Muslim Mindanaoan’s most cherished dream (not to mention the long-held hope of Mindanao-sympathetic development planners)?

The hyperbolic statements regarding BARMM’s prospects rest mainly on the fact that BOL has given to BARMM far more resources—a huge start-up fund, a retainable share in all national-tax collections plus a share in revenues derived from the exploitation of national resources—which will make BARMM far more capable than ARMM of undertaking economic and social projects. An attempt has been made, and continues to be made, to link good governance and abundant financial resources. Is there a close link between the two?

I have no intent to denigrate or belittle MILF’s leaders, and I desire only the best for BARMM and its population; but I have to express my doubts as to whether Muslim Mindanao’s new governing institutions will be able to live up to the high expectations of BOL’s advocates. 

Essentially, development is not about physical and financial resources. It is essentially about people. Messrs Al-Murad and Salamat and their MILF colleagues have shown themselves to be good at running groups of soldiers, but they have no experience in providing good governance to civilian followers. When BARMM begins to function, they definitely will not be able to hit the ground running.

This country’s experience with ARMM is a clear demonstration that resources alone do not a progressive region make. ARMM has never lacked financial resources; it has always been well-funded. Its leaders—these included the Ampatuan clan—wasted the region’s finances, thereby failing to put in place the physical and social infrastructure needed by its population. And so ARMM failed.

Will the MILF’s leaders use BARMM’s abundant resources effectively? Will they give BARMM governance better than ARMM’s? MILF’s leaders have given assurances that they will govern BARMM well, but the value of those assurances is uncertain because MILF’s leaders have no civil-governance track record to speak of.

I hope that all the hype about BOL and BARMM’s future will be borne out in the coming days, for the sake of Muslim Mindanao’s population.

What no right-thinking Filipino wants to see is BARMM going the way of ARMM.

From my reading of what the economic managers of the Duterte administration have been saying about the inflationary surge of 2018­—the steady rise in the inflation rate this year and the measures adopted by the authorities to deal with it—and about the likely inflation scenario for 2019, I have come to the conclusion that their view of the current inflation situation can be summed up as follows: “The surge in consumer prices throughout 2018 is subsidizing and will, as a result of the government’s remedial measures, make possible a return to the 2-to-4 percent annual inflation target set by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.”

The economic managers—the Secretary of Finance, the Governor of the BSP, the Secretary of Socio-Economic Planning, the Secretary of Trade and Industry and the Secretary of Budget and Management—appear to be saying that the Philippine economy has been undergoing an inflationary ride, that things are beginning to simmer down, that the inflation rate will return to target in 2019 and that all will then be back to normal.

Back to normal? Not quite. Inflationary episodes always leave an aftermath, and this year’s inflation is no different. The 2018 inflation has left—I really should say ‘is leaving’ because there is no certainty about a continued downward movement of prices in the months immediately ahead—behind debris from which the economy will recover in the months immediately ahead.

For starters, there is the upsurge of an inflationary psychology which has not been there in recent times and has a tendency to linger. Once inflationary psychology takes hold, producers begin to indulge in speculation, ever trying to guess whether their suppliers intend to raise their prices and often making pre-emptive price strikes. In that kind of environment—and that is the environment that has come to prevail—marketplace stability is not possible.

With their let’s-move-on mindset, the economic managers believe that the return of the inflation rate to the 2-to-4 percent target range means that things are back to normal and that all is now well. But things are not back to normal. Prices are now higher across the board, and prices, once raised, hardly ever come down. They’re sticky. The price increases that the 2018 inflation has caused producers to implement will have created changes in competitive positions; in the case of Philippine exports, this country’s competitive positions vis-à-vis certain foreign  products may well have been negatively affected.

A further element of the aftermath—the debris—of the 2018 inflation has been the generally jarring effect that it has had, and continues to have, on international prospects of the Philippine economy. No longer can the economic managers speak strongly of this country’s sound macro-economic fundamentals. The new wave of price instability has caused foreign institutions and analysts to re-examine the state of those fundamentals. As a result, there have been downgrades in the projections of the Philippine economy’s growth in 2019 and 2020.

The Philippine economy took a beating in the year that is about to end. And largely because of a wayward locomotive called TRAIN 1.

Topics: Rudy Romero , Bangsamoro Organic Law , BOL , BARMM , ARMM , Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
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