The bandit group Abu Sayyaf’s abduction of Cebuano engineer Virgilio Fernandez in Lamitan City, Basilan province, is the latest manifestation of the lawlessness that has plagued the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for decades.
The victim’s wife Shirley appealed to Cebu’s leaders to help secure the engineer’s release, while his son Pierre Virgil asked the Cebuano community to pray for the safety and liberation of his 60-year-old father, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.
The Fernandez family’s call for prayers certainly won’t go unheard, but how much can Talisay City Mayor Socrates Fernandez—the engineer’s second cousin—and Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia do beyond prodding their connections and the powers that be in the ARMM to hasten the search for and rescue of the engineer?
No ransom demand has been confirmed but the government has its stand on that: No deal.
The kidnapping happened just as the Senate prepared to pass a bill to postpone to 2013 the ARMM polls slated this Aug. 8. This appears to bolster Malacañang’s argument for the postponement due to “patronage and transactional politics” and absence “of wider-ranging reforms to enable the people’s voice to be truly heard” in the region.
With Congress expected to ratify the bill and President Benigno Aquino III eager to sign it into law, leaders in ARMM and Malacañang can do the public, specifically the Fernandez family, a big favor by swiftly saving Virgilio from the clutches of the Abu Sayyaf.
The sincerity of politicians in instituting genuine reform in the ARMM can be measured in part through the government’s success or failure in securing Virgilio’s freedom in particular and stopping banditry in the region in general.
For as long as the ARMM is associated, for good reason, with banditry and terror, it will continue to lag behind the rest of the country politically and economically. Few investors are willing to do business and few workers are willing to risk their lives working in the region as the unfortunate Virgilio did.
That is one reason the postponement of ARMM elections begs the question.
How exactly does the national government propose to wipe out violence, terrorism and the culture of electoral fraud that continues to hold the region hostage in the less than two years between this August and the 2013 polls?
Mindanaoans need the change that elections facilitate in light of violence in the ARMM, most notably the Maguindanao Massacre of November 2009 and the continuing rise in kidnappings, all during the watch of the current ARMM leadership that was elected in Aug. 11, 2008.
A changing of the guards at the time set by law can give the national government fresh leaders to work for the upliftment of life in the ARMM so that an engineer like Virgilio won’t have to be rescued from hoodlums in the region.
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