DAVAO CITY —The Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is confident it can beat the deadline of six months given for the review of Republic Act 9054 (Expanded Organic Act for the ARMM) as it has so far "achieved two major things," RLA Speaker Rasol Y. Mitmug Jr. said.
First, the RLA is already preparing its recommendations for the consideration of Congress and, second, it will immediately pass laws to operationalize certain provisions of RA 9054, he said Saturday at the consolidation of recommendations at the Pinnacle Hotel and Suites here.
It has been 11 years since RA 9054 was passed in 2001, and the review of the law is the first time to happen in the ARMM, Mitmug, a lawyer, noted, claiming that only "a few people in the region have read the law."
"Sa tingin ko, wala namang late. It's either simulan mo ngayon or hindi siya magstart at all (I don't think there is such thing as late. It's either one starts the review now or it will not be started at all)," he said.
A series of public consultations were conducted in all five provinces of ARMM as mandated in Republic Act 10153, an act providing for the synchronization of the elections in ARMM with the national and local elections, and for other purposes.
This law paved the way for the appointed members of the RLA to review and study RA 9054 and submit recommendations to the Congress of the Philippines within six months from their assumption into office, as stated in Section 6 of RA 10153.
Each public consultation had at least 200 participants mainly from the academe, communities and different sectors such as women, farmers and business sectors, RLA majority floor leader Romeo Sema told MindaNews.
The study and review of RA 9054 gave an opportunity for the public to realize that it has certain provisions that are doable by the executive department but that have to be operational through legislations of the RLA, Mitmug said.
"Minor fixes but very important," Mitmug said, admitting that they have difficulty on what to do with some provisions that have not been tested yet due to lack of operational laws.
For instance, he said the law provides for the creation of Commission on Human Rights, but it needs an operational law, which fortunately, was just created this year.
In addition, the creation of a tribal court also needs an operational law, which until now has not been enacted, he said, adding that ARMM though has sectoral representatives for indigenous peoples.
The creation of a regional security force, which is stated in the peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), is "executive doable" and the RLA has to pass a law for it, Mitmug said.
"Another provision in RA 9054 states that it shall be the policy of the government as far as practicable to appoint Muslim representatives in all national agencies in the government," he said.
He added, because of how the law was articulated, the RLA was unsure how to implement it, whether it is mandatory or only as guidance, such as having a Muslim judge in the Supreme Court.
"Unfortunately, there were several times that our [nominated] Muslim associate justices were not selected. The question is how to put the policy of the government into practice," Mitmug said.
Sema said the initial major recommendations include the control of natural resources in the ARMM, particularly strategic minerals that are currently under the supervision of the national government, increase in wealth and revenue sharing (currently 50-50 percent sharing), and fiscal autonomy through a lump sum budget.
Because of some inconsistencies with the 1996 peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front, RA 9054 turned out as an obstacle in implementing the peace agreement, Sema added.
After consolidating the recommendations, the RLA will convene local government units, including the president of mayors' league, ARMM congressmen, governors as well as the regional governor and vice governor to incorporate their feedbacks.
The assembly aims to include the recommendations in their plenary session in October so that these will be submitted to Congress before November 8, the deadline of the six-month period for review and study of RA 9054.
The 22-year old ARMM, however, will be replaced soon by a new autonomous political entity. This was agreed upon by both government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) earlier this year, a few days before the OIC assemblymen were named and sworn into office by President Aquino.
The April 24, 2012 GPH-MILF 10-point "Decision Points on Principles" provided for, among others, the creation of a new autonomous political entity (NAPE) that would replace the ARMM.
The government and MILF peace panels expect to sign soonest the framework agreement that would pave the way for a transition from the ARMM to the NAPE. But both parties have agreed that regular elections in the five-province, two-city
ARMM, however, will continue as scheduled on May 13, 2013.
Mitmug told MindaNews Monday night that the review and recommendations of RA 9054 will not go to waste even if the ARMM will be replaced by the NAPE.
Mitmug said "hindi po masasayang" (it won't go to waste).
The inputs from the public consultations, he said, are important and the learnings from the review can be used by the GPH-MILF peace panels.
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews, The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")