It is sad but true that the ARMM or the (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) is perceived to be a land “ruled by men ,not by laws”. The ARMM is made up of Maguindanao,  Shariff Kabunsalan, Lanao del Sur, Tawi tawi and Basilan.

Even from way back in the 1950’s –many of the five provinces in the ARMM were run by warlords coveting their fiefdoms with arbitrariness and violence. That being so, the warlords were protected even by the military and  economic largesse was given them because they commandeered votes and made national candidates win.

Ask the old supporters of former presidents Garcia and Marcos- the first one refusing to cheat, the other institutionalizing the electoral fraud there. Even lately,  notice that the first case whipped against the jailed former woman president and her Comelec chairman Ben Abalos was electoral cheating in that area, both of them behind bars facing election sabotage charges. Remember also – “Hello Garci” of 2004?

The reformist president Benigno Aquino III has postponed the ARMM elections (with SC concurring) and installed former  Anak Mindanao party list representative  Mujiv Hataman as an 18-month governor of ARMM to carve reforms there in stone-together with an P8.9-Billion developmental budget.

But Government cannot do that alone. The private sector must be enthused to bring in the balance of investments-and it remains to be a “Public Relations” nightmare for government to assure businessmen that ARMM is a safe haven for investment. No kidnappings, no milking cows for corrupt local politicians and terrorists and no rebel taxation.

The efforts made recently by the Eishenhower  Fellows Association of the Philippines to drumbeat ARMM in Manila is a laudable project –but wringing private businessmen’s neck towards that direction will need much more than that.

Peace and order and corruption are still major stumbling blocks.

The Muslim separatist movement is known to be the 7th longest inter-racial conflict in the globe that has cost thousands of deaths on both sides. The Ampatuan Massacre of 81 innocent civilians and journalists in Maguindanao is now a two year old case-and conviction seems a distance away with witnesses disappearing and dying. Until the public sees a major conviction soon- it will always be a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of prospective business entrants. Who wants to live in a place where just is a phantom?

It must be made clear that the workings of the law there are in place- and not just one warlord replacing a deposed one and having have to have a local padrino in order to survive the vicious business cycles present there  every where.

The case of John Perrine, chair of the major banana exporter  Uniufrutti Philippines whose headquarters is 40 kilometers from the Maguindanao massacre , has been used an example that private businesses can thrive profitably in the ARMM. A Filipino with American blood and married to a foreigner, John’s family also lives in the area- an idyllic picture perfect country home where they can leisurely horseback ride for hours and not be threatened –security wise.

But Perrine is considered an exception to the rule. He was born and raised in that side of the country and chose Filipino citizenship over being a Yankee. He is considered as a “local” as local can be.

In recent times, there has been no new foreign or local investment in the area after the following:  La Frutera, Dole Phils Fruits,  Mega Sardines,  Ajumill, BJ Cococ Mills, Nor Min Veggies,  ArDex Corporation,  Sumitomo, Shemberg, Filipinas and Granexport. What are their fears?

People like Marian Pastor Roces who are involved in a new development plan for Mindanao to supplant the dated 2000 Plan, believes that the cultural issue is a very critical one. The age-old bias against “only a dead Moro is a good Moro” of the 75% Christian folks there with the attendant feelings of condescension and superiority over the Muslims who are armed with their own sense of entitlement and unjust depravity make the ARMM such a dangerous cauldron for ethnic violence.

The Spanish, American and Filipino versions of pacification have not worked apparently well. We had the Tripoli Agreement (Libya) in 1976, then the  ARMM was created in 1990’s aided by a Peace Agreement with the MNLF in 1996 and the MILF in the 2000’s.GMA tried a sleight of the hand ARMM treaty on her way out of the Palace – but was spurned by the Supreme Court for being unconstitutional .Word,words, promises, promises.

In the recent past, corruption has been endemic and widespread-sometimes billions cannot be accounted for. While the warlords prosper- there is widespread poverty among the people. UNICEF representative and former broadcaster Daphne Osena-Paez says the malnutrition there is as worse as that in Africa even without a famine.

Governor  Hataman was shocked to discover 4,000 ghost teachers, hundreds of ghost pupils (as education budget was reckoned by the number of pupils) and ghost school buildings. It is A Ghost Region- one needs a ghost-buster – we hope Hataman fits the bill.

It is a pity because the woeful lack of infrastructure there has slowly been addressed with the installation of the  huge telecom backbone that will soon cover the whole of Mindanao and Palawan through the US$3-B facility installed by EA Trilink Corporation headed by Dr Alfredo Ramizanes. It is a big start.

ARMM is a fertile land seldom visited by typhoons and has the highest yield and lowest cost for raising banana and pineapple- both richly deserving exports. Its land is superbly fertile and can contribute much to fulfilling Mindanao’s promise to be the Food Basket of the country.

Without the violence, ARMM is a great tourist potential with its verdant hills and mountains, white sand beaches, pretty lakes, resplendent water falls and a huge collection of flora and fauna. There are hundreds of businesses –from small to large –awaiting courageous investors to come and pitch camp there.

There is adequate water supply and power and labor is cheaper by at least P 200/day/worker. Its missing link is a government that has the political will to make things work-the democratic and capitalist laissez faire way.

Will Governor Hataman be the answer?

More than “power point presentations”, the ARMM should do actual road shows and physically bring potential investors into the heart of the region –and to see for themselves the actual “situation of the ground”. How about that?

We strongly believe that if this Government converts the God-forsaken ARMM into a haven of prosperity – the Pnoy Government can showcase it not just to the local Muslims but to the Arab world that we have come to recognize the Muslims, the Lumads and the like to be our own. Our brothers and countrymen.

Then more Arab world foreign investment will doubtless follow. Sincerity is the key.




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