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Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Rights-Based Approach to Development: Is ARMM an Obstacle to Development?

By Atty. Algamar A. Latiph

Development as Human Right

After four decades since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949, the Declaration on the Right to Development was finally adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1986. Since then rights-based approach to development (RAD) has become the UN’s normative framework in development. It is distinguished from mainstream development inasmuch as it views development as a “right” and not a “need” to be satisfied.

Rights-based approach to development is founded on the conviction that each and every human being, by virtue of being human, is a right-holder. And that a corollary duty is created in which the state must respect, promote, protect, and fulfil the right-holder’ s right to development. Hence, the two-way-traffic relations between the right-holder (individual/ people) and the duty-holder (state).

Empowerment by Participation

Rights approach to development focuses, among others, on the right-holders’ participation in the process of economic, social, cultural and political development. Here, participation is understood as the effective mobilization of human and natural resources in inequalities, discrimination, poverty and exclusion.

RAD “recognizes poverty as injustice and includes marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation as central causes of poverty… The acknowledgement that severe poverty is a human rights violation, and that poverty in itself is a root cause of a number of human rights violations” according to the Danish Institute of Human Rights (DIHR).

As the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is the most marginalized and has been suffering from structural injustices for so long it is thus relevant to study this framework of development.

Realizing the Right to Development

Arjun Sengupta, an expert of RAD, argued that the right to development is actually a right to the process of development which means: “the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals, on the basis of their actions, free and meaningful participation in development and fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.”

Under this framework, the state as a duty-holder is duty-bound to create a condition where development may be realized. It must guarantee an accountable political institution in eliminating poverty, inequalities and exclusion where it could maximize fiscal and human resources, effective delivery of public goods and services, making infrastructure services responsive and relevant among others; and under an environment where individual/people’ s participation is guaranteed.

Taking the First Step to Development

In this study, we focus on ARMM’s electoral process since it is where constituent’s participation and the formation of a political institution converge. It is the process where if participation is denied, accountability cannot be expected. Under this framework we can examine whether the national government (NG) has fulfilled its duty in creating a condition where development may be realized. This is because development will take its first step in an accountable political entity.

In the ARMM’s election, there is a constructive and systematic exclusion of its constituent’s participation. While it is true that election is held the electorate is not the real power that put candidates in its elective offices. The election is not free since the constituency has no freedom to choose. First, the Regional Governor is predetermined by Malacanang’s anointment; this has been the practice and scenario since the creation of ARMM. Second, the constituency is forced to yield to the politics of guns, goons, and gold. The latter holds true in other elective positions as well as ARMM’s local unit.

Additionally, election therein has been postponed eight times (no less than by the Congress) in order to give way to the call of political convenience. By doing so the term of offices of the ARMM’s officials were unduly extended without the benefit of election.

Excluding the Constituents

As the people’s participation has been excluded, we cannot expect an accountable ARMM. It should be noted that accountability of a political institution (which is extended to its public officers) is the state of being responsible to its constituents. But how can we expect ARMM’s accountability when its own constituency do not matter in the electoral exercise. Evidently, there is no constituency to be accountable to. Hence, there is no accountability.

Instead of fulfilling its duty in creating a condition where development may be realized by guaranteeing the people’s participation, the NG on the contrary has contributed in making them irrelevant and even had failed to protect their rights against the tradition of guns, goons and gold.

It may be argued that it is ARMM’s constituents and its traditional politicians and warlords that should be take responsibility for its sorry status. This is incorrect. In that region where the marginalized is predominant in its population, the NG has to take a grater responsibility since the dominant vulnerable sector lacks the power to claim and assert their right against the politics of money and intimidation.

Unfulfilled Duty

It is thus the duty-holder’s impotence in fulfilling its duty that caused the dysfunctional ARMM. The latter’s constituency physically exists but it has no place in ARMM as a body politic. It was reduced into thin air.

That is the reason that notwithstanding the infusion of fund from international aid, capability-building of its public officers, reconstruction efforts, among others, its growth is lagging behind the rest of the Philippines . The Human Development Index which measures development disclosed that ARMM development is the lowest in the Philippines . (Philippine Human Development Report 2005).

No wonder that the Summary of the Poorest of the Poor in 2003 by the National Anti-Poverty Commission shows that 23 out of the 40 municipalities are from ARMM. Its constituency likewise suffer discriminations and exclusion. From 2000 to 2004 there were 1.4 a million of its population who became internally displaced persons.

What Now?

What now for ARMM in view of the framework of rights-based approach to development: has ARMM become an obstacle to development?

If we approach ARMM in the lens of GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement, since the present expanded ARMM is one of the components of the agreement: Is the present status of ARMM is what the framers of the peace agreement envisioned?

If we approach ARMM in the light of right to self-determination since autonomous region is a subtle form of right to self-determination: did ARMM’s constituents enjoyed their own cultural identity and sense of ownership in the economic, social and political system in the region?

So what now for the constituency?


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