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State of Governance Reform in the ARMM: Coping with Challenges and Limitations (Gaps)

Posted on 09 December 2015 by consortium


In making assessment on the state of governance reform in the ARMM, there is one basic question that comes to mind:

Is the ARMM equipped with adequate authority and substantial resources to make effective reform or is the ARMM simply tasked to build the foundation for reform (transition)?

To reform a highly devastated society requires not only political will but adequate authority, resources and leaders with strategic foresight for good governance. This is a formidable challenge.

To understand better the state of reforms in the ARMM and assess whether the ARMM has been effective in its political governance and reform programs, it is imperative to know which political circumstances is ARMM operating before and at present. It is critical to analyze the relationship between the extent of power by which the ARMM can exercise to effectively implement reforms in the ARMM as well as its limitations.

Here we look at governance reforms in terms of the ability to operationalize effective social coordination to produce binding rules and provide collective goods. The following may help us analyze the political environment in which the ARMM operates:

  1. The ARMM was established as a post-conflict institution of governance resulting from the decades of peace talks between the MNLF and the Philippine government. Its creation provided the time and space for the MNLF to temporarily halt their armed resistance and joined the post-agreement government. The space and time however was cut short with the resumption of hostilities between the GPH and the MNLF which placed the ARMM again in a fragile conflict situation under an uncertain political environment.
  2. In the context of the GPH and MNLF peace agreement, the ARMM is both a post-conflict institution of governance as well as a political institution whose existence is being questioned.
  3. In the case of the MILF and GPH peace process, the ARMM serves as a government institution in transition but unless a new law is ratified, the ARMM remains a regular government under difficult circumstances.
  4. From the beginning, the ARMM already operated with limited power and resources at its disposal. That is why social trust for the ARMM to succeed is poor.
  5. The ARMM, with its limited authority and practically no oversight power over the LGUs, is a political institution that serves as another layer of bureaucracy hanging between the Central government and LGUs. This was in the past the reason and to some extent even today the 4 provinces comprising the ARMM want to secede from it;
  6. The ARMM has no fiscal autonomy and its power to generate revenues is limited. The amount of its annual operating budget is dependent on the decision of the central government (DBM);
  7. It has limited share of authority over the use of police power that affects implementing and enforcing political decisions.
  8. To sum up, this means that the ARMM has limited territorial or governance sovereignty (statehood);
  9. Facing the ARMM is the gargantuan challenge of violence, culture of impunity, non-compliance to rule of law and poverty and poor consensus-building among its residents.

In terms of governance, the RAN inherited in summary some of the following concerns:

-  Poor and inadequate delivery of basic social services;

-  Corruption, unethical conduct, low respect for human rights and disregard for genuine Civil Society participation in governance.

-  Squandering of public resources where the perpetrators always escape the hand of law.

-  Inability to respond proactively for long-term challenges to public safety, security, disaster and crisis response and environmental threats.

-  The “business as usual” practices erode government accountability and pays lip service to public engagement in decision- and policy –making processes, civic participation in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government programs and projects

ARMM Commitments:

As part of its reform agenda, the ARMM (under Hataman) put forward 4 major commitments under the open governance framework. Maybe these are some of the areas that we can look into. How far have these commitment been materialized:

Commitment 1: Starting the Tradition of Transparency (2) (disclosure policy)

The ARMM Governmentcommits to (1) disclose government information, including programs and services, target beneficiaries and project locales and progress; (2) approved budgets, fund utilization, awarded bids, and procurement plans.

Commitment 2: Deepening Citizen Participation (3)

The ARMM Government commits to:

(1) constitute an Open Government Partnership (OGP) by engaging citizen groups, CSOs, business groups, academe, religious groups and other stakeholders in determining the regional budget, and in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government programs and services.

(2) explore the possibility of an Empowerment Fund facility to support bottom-up approach in development planning and budgeting by CSOs; and

(3) institutionalize social audit as integral part of general public works and agriculture infrastructure projects .

Commitment 3: Escalating Accountability to Ethical and Performance Standards (5)

The ARMM government commits to ensure (1) an integrated approach to measuring its performance          (results-based); (2) adopt results-oriented budgeting (ROB) link to the larger reform framework and while transitioning from the current zero-based budgeting (ZBB) system; (3) adopt and improve a citizen’s charter and response mechanisms to complaints and reports in partnership with CSOs; and (4) institutionalize the new national guidelines on internal control system (NGICS) based on the Philippine Government Internal Audit Manual (PGIAM).

The ARMM government commits to (5) influence its provincial, city and municipal LGUs to the “Seal of Good Housekeeping” standards”.

Commitment 4: Maximizing Technology and Innovation (8)

The ARMM government commits to maximize available technologies to improve and support its operations and service delivery – (1) establish and sustain the quality of its web portals; (2) develop financial information and management systems; (3) pursue electric bidding and procurement; (4) assess current local electronic human resources and payroll systems and aligns current and future systems with the Government Management Information System (GMIS) and the National Payroll System (NPS) standards; (5) explore full database registry to more accurately identify and reach target and project beneficiaries; (6) electronic transparency for legislative allocations and lump sum funds to RLA members with an enabled citizen reportage service; (7) explore interactive fiscal transparency for citizens to learn about and find information on their regional and local budgets with capacity to file citizen reportage as to the quality of its implementation; and (8) explore media options for public feedback and communication where citizens can file anonymous reports or leads on possible graft and corruption cases.

These are just few administrative and delivery reforms including reforms in the bureaucracy, organizational reforms and professionalism which I think, as far as the pillars of open governance is concerned, the ARMM has done or is doing some good job.

But there are other fundamental reforms in political governance that need to be done (in autonomy). These include the following:

  1. Revenue Generation

This is an area where the ARMM needs more efforts. The ARMM is still essentially dependent on national government funding. Without the authority and mechanisms by which it can generate its own resources and exercise fiscal autonomy, the ARMM will continue to be under the mercy of the central government;

  1. Creating functional local government units (Seal of good housekeeping?). More administrative training and planning and assessment skills had been provided with LGUs but these have not been translated into more independence and self-reliant in terms of generating local resources. For all these years the LGUs have been too dependent on the IRA for their operations. LGUs need to tow the line of open governance, among others accountability and transparency, improving its capacity to deliver social services and peoples participation. Considering limited authority and oversight over the LGUs, this will always be a bottleneck in building functional LGUs.
  1. Political reforms (electoral, justice system, security sectors, rule of law, etc). Nothing much has been done. The ARMM needs additional power to aggressively engage in these reform areas. I am tempted to say that these powers are beyond the sovereign authority of the ARMM;
  2. Fighting Corruption. This is a toll order. This is one area that can be effectively addressed when reforms in the political governance is in place. Structural reforms in justice system, politics, electoral, security, delivery of social services can fight corruption. This can only be realized in a post-war situation within the perspectives of transformation.

Looking at this as a backgrounder, the important question is how can effective reforms in the ARMM be achieved in areas of limited power and resources (statehood)? And considering the loose relationship between the ARMM and the Central government on one hand and the ARMM and the LGUs on the other hand, how can social coordination become more effective?

What else do we want to look into in assessing the challenges in the ARMM?

1. Local Social trust and Legitimacy (how much is the peoples’ confidence and trusts in the capacity of the ARMM to make change for the better?)- The dilemma is people believe that the power of the ARMM to run an effective government is limited by its inherent lack of substantial power and resources. There are groups who even say that the BM lacks the competence to run a government that is why the autonomy needs not a wholesome but only incremental support.

Social trust and legitimacy come when people see an autonomous government that has the needed capacities and resources and leadership at hand.

2. External support (both national and international)

Do external actors provide the kind of governance in accordance to the need of the ARMM? Do they help ARMM build its capacity to become effective governance managers? The past administration (before Aquino) did not show much interest to support the ARMM after its birth. Financial support and coordination were utterly lacking. Even international actors in the beginning only provided financial support and not more on technical assistance.

3. The ARMM inherent limited governance sovereignty.

This is why, the need to  give it more power is imperative. Some of these weaknesses are being addressed in the BBL. Under the circumstances of limited sovereignty (power and resources), reforms don’t come easy.

Looking forward and Challenges

Given the inherent inadequacies and limitations of authority, resources and poor external support, reforms in the ARMM do not come easy. These being the bottlenecks there is the need to look into the roadblocks that makes reform difficult and work on them. Leadership is also a big challenge to reforms in the ARMM. Reform-oriented leaders rather that the winner-take-them-all type of leaders is required.


A bold move to challenge a political environment that is characterized by impunity, disregard to the rule of law, poor justice system and violence and insecurities and poverty is the first big step ahead for the the existing or forthcoming governments to address. Without the necessary power and resources embedded in the law, leaders will find it difficult to face these gargantuan challenges of reforms.

The Bangsamoro must be empowered to overcome these challenges. The BBL is one ditch of effort to address these problems. Unfortunately by all indications, the Filipinos are not interested to pursue it. They don’t want our peace. They also dis-agree to our violence. The present ARMM can only do much. The present leadership can try its best but without the power and resources, that best may not be enough.

There can be no piecemeal reform because one system affects the other. Each system is interdependent of each other. You can not reform the delivery system when the leaders are not accountable. You can not reform the justice system without eradicating the culture of impunity. The justice system works when the rule of law is followed. Poverty can only be eliminated when there is justice in the distribution of wealth, etc.

Reforms only happen when there is an effective coordination of all these systems to produce binding rules that can provide common good. And it can happen in a setting where there is substantial sovereignty in governance, as well as resources and whereleaders are guided by the vision of a transformed society.

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