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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

‘Stepping Up’

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DAVAO CITY—The current caretaker of the autonomous region for Filipino Muslims in the South is taking a crack at two trailblazing policy measures on transparency and public acceptance, while awaiting with bated breath the national government’s response to pleas to extend the transition period given them to work out the structures of the autonomy.

One policy measure is adapting geotagging, a wider satellite technology-based tracking of its projects, which only a few other regions in the country have been doing. The other is asking the highest religious policy-making body for Islam in the country to issue an Islamic ruling to guide the conduct of its leaders in the regional autonomous government.

Cotobato City, an independent component city in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

The twin moves appear to demonstrate to the national government and to its constituents its audacity and capability to be transparent and honest, and willingness to continue its path from war to nation building and self-rule.

What’s in geotagging?

AT least seven members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim Parliament of the Bangsamoro Region, filed a bill last week to make it a practice in the region to adapt geotagging for all infrastructure projects.

Geotagging, as described in the proposed bill, is the process of adding metadata and geographical information to the physical or site location of government infrastructure projects and of uploading them to a Web-based application.

“Geotagging of all infrastructure projects in the BARMM [Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] will allow for more effective policy-making, improve the planning and programming of development projects, cumulative location of development projects, and track and monitor the progress of government projects,” said Engr. Don Mustapha Loong, one of the authors of the bill. BARMM covers the central Mindanao areas of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, and the southwestern island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

For a region equated for decades with deep-seated corruption, poverty and conflict, geotagging could be a life-changing course and a complete turnaround. For several years, even third-party evaluators of foreign-funded projects have been complaining of being prevented by local government officials from checking on the status of the projects. They are repeatedly told that a rido, or a clan war, was in progress in the place where the projects are located, in order to discourage them from going there.

Not new

HOWEVER, geotagging is not actually new in the Bangsamoro areas.

In March 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) conducted a second-level training on Procedures for 2018 Geotagging in Cotabato City, and by last year, the PSA followed it up with a top-level discussion with regional directors of the BARMM, map data screeners and key personnel of the provincial offices of the PSA in the region.

Additionally, the PSA said geotagging “is the process of creating vector data by marking building structures in the selected areas as points in the digitized maps. Along with the creation of points for building structures, the association or attribution of geographical information to these points, which include addresses of buildings, building type, and pictures, among others, is also done simultaneously as the Map Data Collector (MDC) marks the identified building structures.”

Engr. Don Mustapha Loong: “Geotagging of all infrastructure projects in the BARMM will allow for more effective policy-making,
improve the planning and programming of development projects, cumulative location of
development projects, and track and monitor the progress of government projects.”

It must also include the project’s name, location and cost to allow the public to check the progress of projects in real time.

Still much earlier, when the region was known as Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM, the Department of Education-ARMM adopted geotagging for its projects through DepEd-ARMM Order 53, series of 2014.

Then regional secretary, lawyer Jamar Kulayan, told the DepEd-ARMM bureaucracy, “Geotagging will now cover selected public elementary and secondary schools [and] the instruction is to cover one district per division and to cover all public elementary and secondary schools in the said covered districts.”

Two years earlier too, in 2012, the Office of Special Concerns (OSC) of the ARMM began touring the areas to take pictures of the place where the projects were supposed to be located and upload pictures into the Quantum Geographical Information System (GIS) software.

“They would take pictures of existing roads, facilities, marketplaces and boundaries, using a camera with a GPS [Global Positioning System], and when they come back, they load the data into the computer,” GIS specialist Maribeth Casten said.

“Once we discover something anomalous, then we report it to the governor,” said Darwin Rasul, assistant secretary at the ARMM’s OSC. “The wisdom of geotagging is to make the validation more accurate, more effective and faster. This is part of the ARMM government’s reform program to make public servants accountable,” he said.

It was Rasul who bared of “millions of public funds on projects wasted” because of unaccounted and ghost projects. In 2012, he said “irregularities that led to the waste of hundreds of millions of pesos of public funds for nonexistent projects in the ARMM are more massive than previously thought.”

Rasul said across ARMM, officials discovered more than 10 non-existent school buildings since the OSC assessment was started and estimates could be much higher once it finished auditing all ARMM projects in the five provinces.

‘Halal’ conduct among officials

A PARALLEL move was also taken by the BTA. This time, it asked the Darul-Ifta to issue an Islamic ruling on Halal conduct of BARMM officials and employees. The Darul-Ifta is Islam’s house of jurisprudence, which issues fatwa or Islamic ruling.

This time, the BTA wanted to know, and be guided “on what constitutes Halal conduct of Bangsa­moro officials and employees.”

“The concept of Halal is generally considered in legislation as only regarding the permissible food, drinks and goods, and the manner of ‘purity’ of such items. But Halal also encompasses the permissible actions of an individual, which in the context of this resolution, [are] the permissible actions of the public servant, and the purity of their actions,” said Abdullah Hashim, a member of the Parliament, as members of the BTA are called.

Hashim introduced the resolution in the plenary last week and stated that “moral governance holds politicians accountable not only to the public but also to the Creator.”

“The BARMM officials and staff are khalifa, or stewards of Allah, and must act with the utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency,” the resolution read.

He said Darul-Ifta “is the best agency to define Halal acts, which will guide the Bangsamoro officials toward serving the public with “integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

The Bangsamoro Parliament also encouraged all newly appointed employees to take their “oath of moral governance” before the Office of the Wali.

Welfare actions

ELSEWHERE, BARMM has also moved to grant Civil Service (CS) eligibility to employees who served continuously for at least seven years. Parliament Bill 91, filed by Dr. Saffrullah Dipatuan, intends to cover temporary government employees occupying career posts for seven years.

“While these temporary employees are equipped with the educational requirement, training and experience for the career service position to which they are appointed, they lack the appropriate CS eligibility that will qualify them for the permanent appointment to their current positions,” Dipatuan said.

He said that in 1990, Congress passed Republic Act 6850, which granted CS eligibility to government employees on provisional or temporary status who served for at least seven years.

“If temporary employees covered by RA 6850 were given this opportunity to become permanent, we could not see why the same privilege cannot be extended to temporary employees in BARMM,” he said.

Also last week, the BTA approved a resolution that would protect Moro people outside the BARMM. The resolution was in reaction to the arrests allegedly without warrants of Muslims in Cavite in March. It also came as a reaction to reports of abductions and killings of some 80 Moro residents in Polomolok, South Cotabato, since 2017, on suspicion that they allegedly supported terrorist actions.

House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman, the last governor of the ARMM before it was reconstituted to become the BARMM, has called for an investigation into these incidents.

Transition

THE BTA, however, has only one more year to complete its mandate to craft the basic laws of the Bangsamoro Region but has so far enacted three of priority legislations on Administrative Code, Civil Service Code and Education Code.

It has yet to enact the other important and basic codes on local government, electoral and revenue, said BTA Speaker Atty. Pangalian Balindong.

The BARMM officialdom, composed of the key leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has expressed its wish for an extension, citing several instances abroad where autonomous regional governments took more than 10 years to work out a functional autonomous government.

Civil society organizations have gathered more than one million signatures in the first quarter of this year and attached them to a petition to Malacañang, requesting President Duterte to certify as urgent the bills in both chambers of Congress seeking an extension of at least another three years of the transition period for the BTA.

President Duterte was yet to issue any certification, but Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of civil society group Mindanao People’s Caucus, said the President may not have issued the certification yet but she said Malacañang has been in frequent meetings with BARMM officials lately.

“I believe that the President knows that it would be one of his greatest legacies to consolidate the peace gains in Mindanao by granting the BARMM enough working space to work out an autonomous region,” she said.

Images courtesy of Yarr65 | Dreamstime.com and Google Earth

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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