By Ali G. Macabalang
Amid brewing debate over a proposal for an extended lifespan of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), Interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim alongside key cabinet members went to Malacañang on Monday, Nov. 23 and sought Presidential advice on the highly-charged quest.
And, Alhamdulillah, ICM Ebrahim’s team was not only granted ample audience but Presidential backing, according to lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesman of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim (BARMM) governance.
“The short and long (highlight of) the meeting which took place last night between the President and his cabinet and the Chief Minister (along with) select members of his cabinet tackled the single agenda of extension of the period of transition,” Sinarimbo told the Philippine Muslim Today the following day.
Sinarimbo, concurrent BARMM’s Local Government minister, added: “The President supports the extension of the period of transition. The Chief Minister thanked the President for his continuing support to the Bangsamoro.”
“The Chief Minister assured the President that the extension is not an attempt (for him and other appointees) to hold on to power but to simply ensure the completion of the essential works and obligations that need to be put in place during the transition,” added Sinarimbo, who was with ICM Ebrahim.
In a subsequent Facebook post, Sunarimbo displayed two photos showing President Duterte in a huddle with them before presiding over a national cabinet meeting on Monday night.
The BARMM delegation’s audience in Malacañang came on the heels of debates that went viral in the social media between and among supporters and dissenters in the quest for three years or so additional time in the lifespan of the transitional autonomous governance.
The 80-seat BTA, the governing body of the BARMM interim governance, is composed of members appointed by Mr. Duterte for a period ending upon the election of regular parliament members in the 2022 synchronized elections. He inaugurated the transitional governance on March 29, 2019, less than two months after the ratification of R.A. 11054.
R.A. 11054, also known as Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), established BARMM in replacement of the 29-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It translates legally the provisions of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) inked in 2013 and 2014, respectively, by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The edict’s ratification effectively expanded the area of autonomy, enabling BARMM to cover Cotabato City and 63 villages in North Cotabato. The defunct ARMM comprised just Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.
R.A. 11054 stipulates among others the intents under the CAB for two thrusts – government track and normalization track. The government track mandates the establishment of more autonomous entity under a parliamentary mode of administration. The normalization track requires the transition to civilian and productive life via decommissioning of the MILF’s 40,000 or so MILF members, 12,000 of whom are said to be armed.
Surge of debate
Because of global imposition of restrictive protocols meant to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic that stunted governmental operations, autonomy stakeholders saw improbability for the BARMM interim governance to complete the processes for both government and normalization tracks on or before 2022.
The Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), a non-government organization rallying all Mindanao peace processes for years, had reportedly made a rapid review of the BARMM operations, and recommended for at least three additional years in the BTA’s lifespan. The recommendations mean a postponement of the 2022 elections for regular BARMM officials until 2025.
ICM Ebrahim, in a national podcast on Nov. 13, corroborated the MPC review and supported its recommendation. He reportedly had even sought earlier endorsements from local government units within BARMM for the purpose.
In the podcast, Ebrahim mentioned “challenges” his administration current operations, hinting it was not even halfway in the pursuit for full completion of the two fundamental tracks.
In the government track, the BTA has so far passed only the regional administrative code, and was still deliberating on other ordinances on civil service, local governance, election, education, and revenue, among others needed for the establishment of a more responsive autonomous entity.
The normalization track, on the other hand, is not even halfway, according to government and MILF authorities. The multi-nation Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) has already processed a few hundreds of MILF combatants, giving only P100,000 cash from the P1-million package committed to each of them.
On Nov. 20, Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal “Bombit” Alonto-Adiong Jr. confirmed to the Philippine Muslim Today his convening on Nov. 11 his constituent mayors to get their reaction to the proposed transition extension.
Adiong said 32 of the 40 mayors, including that of Marawi City, attended the meeting, and all those present disented to the proposal. Apart from pressing for the conduct of the 2022 election on time to ensure electoral representation to the parliament, the mayors also aired dismay over the alleged failure of the BARMM government to deliver projects it committed during the campaign for the ratification of R.A. 11054.
He did not give details about the purported projects’ commitment, even as he pointed out that his meeting with the mayors was an executive or “closed-door” meeting and did not come with a formal manifesto or resolution.
It was learned later that the commitment involved alleged assurance by BARMM officials to release the funds they inherited from the defunct ARMM to pay for projects implemented by Lanao Sur LGUs during the Hataman regime.
On Nov. 17, the BTA adopted Resolution No. 332 endorsing to Congress and Malacañang the need for an extension in its transition period, based on earlier pronouncements by ICM Ebrahim and the MPC recommendation.
BTA Parliament Member Jose Lorena, a lawyer and key author, has cited the official endorsements via manifestos and board resolutions from Tawi-Tawi-Tawi and Maguindanao.
Parliament Member Eddie Alih, an academic representative, said the three-year transition period is not enough for the interim governance to achieve its main missions on building a strong autonomous bureaucracy and transforming the MILF members to civilian and productive life.
Sulu leaders led by Governor Sakur Tan have expressed bolder objection to the proposed extension via manifesto, reports reaching the Philippine Muslim Today showed.
The manifesto argued that the proposed extension would deprive the regional electorate of constitutional rights of suffrage. It also complained about alleged dismal benefits the Sulu people have so far received from the BARMM governance.
A similar dissenting stance was allegedly conveyed by the officials of Basilan purportedly led by brothers Governor Jim Saliman-Hataman and Congressman Mujiv Hataman. Efforts to get confirmation from the two officials proved in vain as of press time.
Bolder debate in social media
In Facebook posts, BTA Parliament Member Ali B. Sangki of Maguindanao said the current debate on the proposed extension should serve as a “wakeup call” for the Bangsamoro people to reflect on adversities that disunity brought amongst them.
He prodded the public about the original intent of MILF peace negotiators for a six-year transition governance. The original timeline has been halved by Congress when the Duterte government revived talks for BARMM creation after the Aquino administration archived the enabling Bangsamoro Basic Law in the aftermath of the bloody Mamasapano, Maguindanao clash in January 2015 that left 44 terrorist-hunting police commandos alongside over 60 others.
Sangki expressed support for the extension proposal, even as he urged the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front to get united for the purpose of carving a meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro. He lamented the stance of some politicians as if wanting the MILF to “fail” in leading the transitional autonomy.
Several individuals from within and outside BARMM have also conveyed varying views in support of or against the proposal.
Others preferred to be neutral but have floated views to make the social media debate fruitful and comprehensive.
Among the neutral reactors, who presented eye-opening views on the issue, was lawyer Maki Alonto Datu-Ramos, younger sibling of National Commission on Muslim Filipino (NCMF) spokesman Dr. Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos.
Atty. Datu Ramos presented salient points: Because of BARMM entity’s infancy (being established only last year), it is unfair to judge and gauge its accomplishments yet; PRRD should have filled the BTA with competent legal minds; BTA members enjoy electoral mandate being appointed by popularly-elected PRRD; There is no certainty that people elected in BARMM will be better; and BARMM officials, regardless of tribes, ought to work fairly and inclusively.
UBJP is ready for political contests but…
While the MILF was holding the final stages of peace talk with the government years ago, it had organized the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) and registered the same with the Commission on Elections. The party has formed chapters in the provinces, cities and towns in BARMM ostensibly to field candidates in the 2022 elections.
But in the Nov. 13 podcast, MILF Chair and ICM Ebrahim admitted that due to social movement constraints imposed in the campaign against COVID-19 disease, physical dynamics in the BTA were equally stunted, so with the BARMM field operations.
Ebrahim affirmed that the BARMM governance has no “major accomplishments” yet to present to the electorate in the 2022 political exercises. (AGM)