By Ali G. Macabalang
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) has formalized the subtle campaign for a three-year extension in the tenure of its appointed members, with its passage on Nov. 17 of Resolution No. 332 for the purpose.
The resolution rallied officially an earlier public statement of Bangsamoro interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim, which expressed the desire of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for postponement of election of regional officials in the 2022 polls in order for the transition body to fully flesh out the provisions of the MILF’s peace accords with the government, according to BTA Parliament Member Jose Lorena, a lawyer and one of principal authors.
“I stand by our chief minister, when he declared that in the normalization, there (is) much to be (done),” Lorena said, referring to the podcast interview by journalist Christian Esguerra on Nov. 13 where ICM Ebrahim conveyed support to the recommendation of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) on extending the transition period for three years.
Published reports said the MPC, a peace advocacy group, had conducted a rapid midterm review on the regional government’s transition period through record reviews, key informant interviews, and focused group discussion with various stakeholders.
In the podcast interview, ICM Ebrahim admitted “challenges” for the new autonomous governance to fully flesh out the two major intents in the 2014 MILF’s Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) – the governance track and the normalization track.
The normalization track stipulates building of a new regional bureaucracy that fits to the Bangsamoro socio-political landscape, while the normalization track provides for full decommissioning and transition to amity and productive life among the MILF’s 14,000 members.
The interim government is still on the verge of enacting enabling codes for a robust Bangsamoro entity, while local and national authorities have just decommissioned about half of the MILF combatants, with the government starting to pay out the P1-million economic package promised to each of the former guerillas, Ebrahim hinted.
The economic package has not been paid out fully yet. So, the challenge is how we can persuade other MILF field combatants to follow suit in the normalization track, Ebrahim said in Pilipino.
President Duterte inaugurated the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) bureaucracy on March 29, 2019, installing his appointed members of the 80-seat BTA. BARMM replaced the 29-year Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under R.A. 11054, also known as Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), enacted in July 2018 and ratified in the January and February 2019 plebiscites.
The appointive BTA members will govern the interim BARMM governance until the election in 2022 of their regular replacement.
The MPC’s review, corroborated by the MILF and many BARMM stakeholders, has indicated a slim chance for the interim governance to fully flesh out the two-track CAB until 2022. Thus, it recommended a three-year extension of the transition period.
The BTA parliament had just enacted the BARMM’s Administrative and Education Code, and is still tackling the Civil Service Code, Local Government Code in processes largely stunted by the advent of the CoVID-19 global pandemic and the adversities of intermittent natural calamities among Moro people in and outside BARMM.
ICM Ebhraim said their transitional administration has not delivered major successes, something that the electorate in BARMM would reckon if the 2022 election of regular officials would push through.
The MILF has fully organized its political party called United Bangsamoro and Justice Party (UBJP) in its plan to field candidates in the 2022 elections and succeeding polls.
In past peace negotiations, the MILF originally pushed for a six-year transition, which was halved following delays in the passage of a new law creating the BARMM.
A botched 2015 anti-terrorism operation that killed 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao stymied the implementation of the historic peace agreement with the MILF under then President Benigno Aquino III.
The tragic incident drew public outrage, which prompted Congress to shelve the BOL draft.
Congress, under President Rodrigo Duterte, passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018 with the new region set following a two-stage plebiscite the following year. But it provides for only 3-year transition.
Ebrahim said the new transition schedule might not be enough to complete systemic and structural changes in the region, including the crucial decommissioning of MILF combatants under the peace deal’s normalization process.
The MILF and local peace stakeholders have reportedly lobbied with congressmen, explaining why it supports the proposed extension contained in the midterm review of the MPC, he said.
BTA Resolution No. 332 has formalized the campaign, even as it officially urged Congress to extend the tenure of office of its appointed members.
The resolution has cited some corroborating calls by the League of Municipalities of the Philippines’ (LMP) chapter in Tawi-Tawi, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Tawi-Tawi, and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Maguindanao for BTA members to serve beyond 2022 in the interest of building a new meaningful autonomy.
Parliament members Lorana, of Sulu, and Eddie Alih, of Tawi-Tawi, said that in the search for political solution to the Mindanao conflict, the three-year extension of the BTA is necessary to accomplish its mandate as stipulated in the BOL and to complete the implementation of the normalization tract of the peace process.
In an earlier interview with the Philippine Muslim Today news group, Parliament Member Paisalin Tago, also a lawyer from Lanao del Sur, disclosed inhibition from joining the authors of the extension-seeking resolution, saying he would not like to appear pushing for something “self-serving.”
But Tago agreed with MPC and other peace stakeholders that the current interim period for BARMM governance is not enough to make the difference over the past regional autonomous setup that reeked with suspicions of alleged misgivings and inadequacies.
MILF Vice Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent BTA member and minister of education, has backed the resolution, asserting that the call for three more years transition period would not be “self-serving” but “is for our people.”
Earlier, meanwhile, the elected mayors of 39 towns and once city in Lanao del Sur purportedly led by Gov. Mamintal “Bombit” Adiong Jr. convened last week and expressed object to the campaign, citing the need for the need for true electoral representation in the regional governance via the 2022 polls.
On the other hand, the Federation of Bangsamoro Communities Outside the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region or BCOBAR has expressed full support to the extension call.
Another youth group called “1Bangsa” has sent to the Philippine Muslim Today a statement rallying the move for three more years of transition period for the interim BARMM governance. (AGM)