CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Southern Philippines – Eid Kabalu, the voice of the armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has been stripped of his office for seeking to be the head of the interim government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“You know pretty well that (the) ARMM is not the solution to the Bangsamoro Question. The MILF only accepts a negotiated settlement of this problem,” reads a June 21 central committee resolution addressed to Kabalu.
He was found “liable for conduct unbecoming of an MILF officer” for initiating a meeting in Davao City with former North Cotabato governor Emmanuel Piñol and Davao Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to solicit political support.
The dismissal came even after Kabalu tendered his resignation as chairman of the group’s civil-military affairs department and as spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).
He supposedly admitted to also meeting with politicians in Manila to bolster his bid.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is set to appoint people to 50 posts within the ARMM, following the Senate’s June 7 vote of 13-7 to postpone the ARMM elections from this coming Aug. 8 to May 10, 2013.
Former Anak Mindanao Partylist Rep. Mujiv Hataman is the reported front-runner in the selection process that has not been without critics.
Civil society groups through are confident that, if appointed, Hataman, who has been depicted as a reformist, will not go the path of traditional politics and seek a longer term by running in the 2013 polls.
“Not running for elections in ARMM is part of a moral and social unwritten covenant of Mujiv with civil society,” said Samira Gutoc, spokesperson of Reform ARMM Now (RAN).
If appointed, Hataman will replace Ansaruddin Adiong, the person the previous administration appointed to replace Zaldy Ampatuan, who is under arrest and being prosecuted for his alleged involvement in the Ampatuan Massacre.
With two years as appointee and three more if wins a regular term after that, Hataman could wield the power of ARMM governor for five years, not counting the possibility of two additional three-year terms under re-election.
“Mujiv will not run for ARMM posts in 2013,” RAN’s Gutoc nevertheless assures.
In fact, Gotoc stressed, Hataman is strong in his commitment and is even foregoing plans of seeking elective office in Basilan, where his brother is congressman.
Hataman is the president of the Bangsamoro Solidarity Network (BANGSA), one of the convenors of RAN, which in turn is a coalition of some 20 non-government organizations and social movements.
RAN lobbied strongly for the postponement, believing that there should be an interim period where President Benigno Simeon Aquino III would appoint people that will carry out needed reforms.
Critics of the postponement warn of people jockeying for posts, including those supposedly engaged in the reform campaign.
While not naming him directly, Hataman did previously show interest in the governorship of ARMM and its 2.8 million people, spread over the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Marawi City.
He was among the 14 people with duly filled-up certificates of candidacy when the period to file one in preparation to the originally scheduled Aug. 8 elections elapsed last May 27.
He joined the ranks of Ashmaira Mayasa Abdullah, Mamintal Alonto, the incumbent governor of Lanao del Sur, Saad Ibrahim Amate, Pangalian Macaorao
Balindong, Ephraim Baldomero Defino and Alvarez Silal Isnaji, who once served as appointed ARMM governor.
The candidates also include Ansaroden Moner, Pakung Mangudadatu, the former governor of Sultan Kudarat, Kadra Masihul, Datu Habib Maulana, Elsie New Orejudos, Saidamen Pangarungan, former appointed Lanao del Sur governor, and Sahiron Dulah Salim, former ARMM police director.
Kabalu, like Hataman, is also viewed as a reformist and among those seen responsible for steering the discussion on the conflict between the MILF and the government from one of separatism to the recognition of a sub-state, much like the ARMM and the Cordillera Autonomous Region.
But in seeking a government post, even one that his merely appointive in nature, the MILF said Kabalu’s action went beyond reform to the achievement of a personal pursuit.
Last year, Kabalu was given a six-month suspension for engaging in activities related to the May 10, 2010 political exercise.
He signed as witness to a covenant of Bangon Pilipinas Party bets who promised enhanced autonomy for the Moro people once they win office.
Amid the speculated appointment of Hataman, RAN’s Gutoc said the selection of appointees for other ARMM positions must only come after “a consultative process” with a broad range of stakeholders, including civil society.
This way, people in the ARMM are able to participate in the policy reform decision-making process, she added.
Another RAN convenor, Darwin Rasul III, chair of Bangun Tausog-Minority Rights Forum, stressed separately that reforms would be impossible “if the same old clans and political warlords dominate the appointments.”
RAN has spelled out three areas requiring urgent attention: disbanding private armies, straightening up fiscal management, and cleansing the region’s electoral system.
Gutoc added that President Aquino, in selecting whom else to appoint, must also demand from these possible appointees a commitment not to seek office in 2013.
At the height of campaigning to postpone the regional election, RAN’s legislative proposal included a provision restricting appointees to any ARMM position from seeking office in 2013.
This was struck down by Congress for being contrary to the Organic Act for the ARMM.
If Aquino cannot totally resist the pressure for political accommodation, at the very least he must strike a “60-40 balance in favor of having reformists as appointees,” Gutoc pointed out.
To politicians jockeying for posts, Gutoc appealed: “Please do not hostage the ARMM reform process by your self-interest.” (Reported by Ryan D. Rosauro for PECOJONPH/knr)