‘People feeling changes’ in ARMMBy Germelina Lacorte
DAVAO CITY—Haunted by its history of corruption, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is trying to prove that it has mended its ways.
“People are feeling the changes,” its acting governor, Mujiv Hataman, said in Davao City two weeks ago. He spoke during the Convention on Local Governance, which was attended by mayors, governors and officials of government agencies from the ARMM.
For one, Hataman boasted that the region’s Department of Education had rid itself of “ghost” teachers and “ghost” classrooms, saving for the government some P237 million in maintenance and operating expenses.
“The ARMM has also practically stopped usury that was victimizing teachers,” he said.
Moreover, he said, the region would pilot the country’s first online government transaction to allow the Commission on Audit in Manila to monitor how public money was being spent. Bidding for projects and other transactions will be conducted online in what has been described as a showcase of open governance, transparency and accountability.
The national government has provided P8.59 billion in stimulus fund for the ARMM, but some P1.17 billion of the allocation has yet to be released, mostly for projects in agriculture and health, according to a report of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Even President Aquino, who addressed the Davao convention, was baffled. He said he would ask his Cabinet officials to explain why most of the projects lined up under the stimulus fund had “not yet” been started.
The delay could be attributed to the freezing of the ARMM funds, pending audit, before Hataman was appointed acting governor last year.
A regional official, who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution, blamed the delay on the perception of national government agencies that the “region could not be trusted with billions worth of projects” as it is known for corruption.
Almost half of the unreleased amount, or P518.5 million, is intended for health projects, while another P510 million is for agriculture projects, the DBM reported.
Other unfreed funds included P80 million for projects under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and P61.64 million for livelihood support projects of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or Tesda.
The President had warned that funds lined up under the transition investments support plan for the ARMM would be reverted back to national coffers if these remained unused by yearend. But he added that most of the projects did not have exact timetables.
Tesda failed to release some P61.63 million worth of projects intended for skills and jobs programs for the youth and the ulama (religious leaders), training for work assistance program and the Private Education Student Financial Assistance.
The DOTC was to fund the rehabilitation of the Jolo seaport and the Sanga-Sanga airport in Tawi-Tawi.
On the other hand, the Department of Agriculture allocated some P550 million under its special allocation release order (Saro) for farm-to-market road projects, support activities for halal production and support activities for municipal fishing. It has withheld some P510 million, however,
On the first day of the convention, Hataman and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala signed a memorandum of agreement for the construction of farm-to-market roads, installation of water impounding systems and other projects.
“We have created a team to monitor the projects,” Hataman said, adding that members of civil society groups would be part of the team.
“These farm-to-market roads projects will not be ‘regraveling’ but concreting,” he added.
Alcala said the project sites had been “prevalidated” by a technical team from the agriculture department “to ensure that it can be implemented.” Upon completion, he said, the projects would be “geo-tagged” or put on a map of existing projects.
Of the P956 million allocated by the Department of Health, only P437.5 million was issued a Saro. Under the stimulus fund, the department committed to purchase sea and land ambulances, and medical equipment, set up basic emergency obstetrics and newborn centers and other projects.
The Department of Energy also targeted to finish its P200-million rural electrification project in the ARMM in October.
The biggest chunk of the stimulus package went to road and infrastructure projects by the Department of Public Works and Highways, P2.85 billion: followed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), P1.97 billion; and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), P1.27 billion.
Among the projects committed by the DSWD were the core shelter program for displaced families, the supplemental program for preschool children, emergency shelter assistance and cash-for-work program.
Those committed by the DILG included potable water supply project, building of municipal halls, public markets, slaughterhouses and the Yakan training center in Basilan.
Also lined up were the installation of of safe drinking water system for five towns in Basilan, 21 in Lanao del Sur, 34 in Maguindanao, eight in Sulu, and nine in Tawi-Tawi.
The President said these projects would finally quench the thirst of communities that never had safe drinking water for too long.
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