By Ali G. Macabalang
Lawmakers and national officials alongside private and transnational peace process facilitators are one in belief that the three-year transitional term is “too short” for the interim Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) governance to fully realize its basic and legal mandates.
Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu pointed this out in his speech at the opening of the joint committee hearing Wednesday, Jan. 11 on House bills seeking to postpone the first election of BARMM’s regular parliament members set in 2022.
In his written speech, copy-furnished the Philippine Muslim Today e-newspaper, Mangudadatu also announced the filing this month of another bill, which brought the number of enabling legislative measures to five and bolstered the momentum for extension in the three-year lifespan of the 80-seat Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), an interim BARMM ruling body.
Mangudadatu, a former three-term governor in Maguindanao, is the main author of House Bill 8117. The four other measures are HB Bills 8116, 8161, 8222 and 8277 sponsored by Deputy Speakers Loren Legarda and Isidro Ungab, Majority Floor Leader Martin Romuladez and another unnamed author.
Joint committee hearing
The House Committees on Suffrage & Electoral Reforms, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity held a maiden joint hearing on Wednesday via zoom to start deliberating and harmonizing the five legislative measures.
Rep. Mangudadatu told the hearing that the House Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, which he chairs, had held initial briefings on the implementation status of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro or (CAB) last Nov. 18, 26 and Dec. 14.
The CAB, which the government signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is the main basis in the enactment by Congress of R.A. 11054 in July 2018. The law, known more as Bangsamoro organic Law (BOL), was ratified by overwhelming majority of electorates in the 29-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which has been replaced by BARMM.
Mangudadatu said his initial committee briefings gathered views from officials of BARMM, national entities led by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the Department of Finance (DOF) as co-chair in the Intergovernmental Relations Body (IGRB), civil society groups led by the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), and the Independent Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT).
The TPMT, which is tasked to assess and review the CAB implementation until the signing of an exit agreement by the government and MILF can happen, and the MPC, which has been helping facilitate the Mindanao peace process, have categorically mentioned in their recent assessment reports about the “lack of time” for the BTA to fulfil fully its major mandates on normalization and political tracks, Mangudadatu said.
“From the three briefings, presenters from BARMM, OPAPP, DOF, MPC and TPMT unanimously claimed that the (COVID-19) pandemic adversely affected the implementation of the CAB, (notably in) the pending enactment of vital (ordinances) like the Revenue, Electoral and Local Government Codes, and the implementation normalization track,” he said.
The normalization track requires disarmament and decommissioning of the MILF’s 40,000 combatants, only 12,000 of whom have been decommissioned in a process stunted in the pandemic, which prompted the diversion of much government strides and fund resources to containing the spread of the viral disease. Presently, the government has paid up only P100,000 to each decommissioned combatants out of P1-million commitment to each of them under the government’s mission to transform the former rebels to “peaceful and productive life,” Mangudadatu said.
“There is still a long way (for the government) to meet the targeted decommissioning of 40,000 combatants,” he said,
Citing the circumstantial setbacks, lawmakers, national and regional officials, and other stakeholders have reached a conclusion: “It is very unlikely that (BARMM interim officials) can put everything in place in three years,” he stressed.
Mangudadatu recalled having agreed with Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim and other BARMM key officials the parameters of the term extension to 2025, and the subsequent signal of support by President Duterte that buoyed House Speaker Lord Velasco and key leaders in the majority and minority blocks to offer co-authorship in the enabling bills.
Rep. Mangudadatu is among lawmakers and national dignitaries invited to the culmination here Thursday, Jan. 21, of the BARMM’s 2nd foundation anniversary. The date is reckoned with the ratification of R.A. 11054 or BOL in a plebiscite two years ago.
Invited national cabinet officials like Finance Sec. and IGRB co-chair Sonny Dominguez, DILG Sec. Eduardo Año, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., among others, would also likely expound on the national government’s corroboration for the essence of BTA transition extension.
The commemorative events kicked off on Jan. 18 here simultaneously field celebrations in Maguindanao, Lanao del including Marawi City, Basilan including Lamitan City, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the base of in Pikit town of 63 villages in North Cotabato, all component areas of BARMM.
After the kick-off events, BARMM Ministers Mohagher Iqbal of education, Naguib Sinarimbo of local government, and Amirel Usman of health held a press conference and explained in clearer details the reasons and nature of the campaign for BTA transition extension.
“”The extension (move) is not about power. It is not about trying to extend our presence (in the BARMM governance), but is aimed at ensuring that peace shall be well-established on the ground (during the interim regime),” said Iqbal, a co-chair of IGRB. The IGRB facilitates the full devolution of national line agencies’ assets and powers to BARMM.
Iqbal hinted that postponing polls and extending office terms of autonomous region’s officials are not unprecedented, citing the past congressional extension of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leaders’ reign in the defunct ARMM from three to 10 years.
The MNLF forged a final peace deal with the government in 1996, prompting the resetting of 1996 polls to give way to the election front founding Chair Nur Misuari as regional governor followed by MNLF’s “council of 15” head Parouk Hussein in another election.
In the current situation, Iqbal said, the MILF-led interim BARMM government has actually been operational for barely a year because while it was established on March 29, 2019, it merely pursued the unfinished projects and thrusts of the defunct ARMM. In 2020, the BARMM operations were stunted by the adverse effects of Coronavirus outbreak that required limited people’s movements and diverted state resources to contain the virus, he added.
For his part, Minister Sinarimbo pointed out that “the only way to achieve the (MILF-government) agreement’s dream for well-founded governance to bring about stable peace and progressive Bangsamoro is to give an ample time by postponing the 2022 elections.”
In a podcast with a Manila media network, Sinarimbo clarified that the desired poll postponement covers only the election of regular members in the BARMM parliament, not the elective posts for congress members, provincial, municipal and city officials in the autonomous region.
On Jan. 19, the second day of r celebration, BTA Parliament Speaker Pangalian Balindong and his member-lawyers Jose Lorena, Omar Yasser Sema and Lanang Ali Jr. took turns at a press briefing here in justifying the passage on Nov. 17, 2020 of a resolution urging Congress to postpone the 2020 regional polls and extend the transition reign of interim parliament members appointed by President Duterte.
Speaker Balindong, a former congressman for 12 years, said the BOL or R.A. 11054 provides for the grant of at least 58 autonomous powers to the BARMM governance that are necessitating the passage of regional codes on electoral process, revenue, civil service, local government, administrative structure and education system in the region.
Because of the onslaught of Coronavirus pandemic, the state-regulated physical movements of people and diverted thrusts to combat the pandemic have stunted parliament members in drafting and deliberating the enabling bills of the major codes, Balindong said, citing the recent passage of just the administrative code.
Member-lawyers Lorena and Sema, both representing the MNLF, said they have also been facing the taxing process in legislating measures that will build not only parliamentary governance but a moral administration in BARMM.
Reacting to critics’ notion that the extension move will “personally benefit” the BTA interim members, Lorena urged Congress to incorporate in the pending enabling bills a provision authorizing the President or Chief Minister Ebrahim to revamp the parliament and appoint new transitional members. AGM