By Ali G. Macabalang
Moves to postpone next year’s election of regular members of the Banagsamoro parliament and give interim officials ample time to flesh out legal mandates have drawn the support of the highest Catholic leader in Muslim Mindanao region.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop emeritus of Cotabato, said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-led rule in three-year transition might not be able to complete the reforms it had started to improve the poorest region in the country as provided in R.A. 11054 and the MILF peace accords with the government forged in 2013 and 14.
“Elections in 2022 would simply erode whatever fragile gains the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) shall have obtained within the transition period,” Quevedo said in a statement, praying for Congress to grant the request of the MILF-led administration to extend its transition reign.
The Cardinal’s statement added: “The constraints of time are simply insurmountable. The BTA will surely not be able to complete its mandate within the period of transition.”
The MILF was given the chance to lead the interim parliament and cabinet of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim (BARMM) under R.A. 11054 based on a peace agreement it signed with the central government in 2013, ending almost five decades of conflict which killed more than 120,000 people and displaced two million people.
The edict, known as Bangsamoro Organic Law, was ratified in a plebiscite on Jan. 21, 2019, preceding President Duterte’s appoint of MILF Chairman Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim as chief minister and key members and nominees as members of the BTA, the interim ruling body of BARMM. Ebrahim eventually named his cabinet members.
The MILF has 41 representatives to the 80-seat BTA. The 31 other members represent the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the original revolutionary group that had signed a peace accord with the state in 1996 that has been deemed “not fully” fulfilled.
Supporters of the peace process feared the MILF, which has transformed from a separatist rebellion into a political movement, might lose its mandate in an election in BARMM areas largely dominated by powerful political clans.
They also feared the conflict may recur if the MILF would lose political clout before the end of the transition period, which will end in 2022 and is supposed to cover decommissioning of its 40,000 combatants and build a parliamentary form of governance.
Ebrahim admitted in a podcast last November that his administration has no “major achievements” yet to campaign about in the 2022 regional polls.
BARMM spokesman and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo has repeatedly pointed out that if the 2022 polls would be held as scheduled, the MILF’s focal strides for building a robust autonomy and transforming its armed members into peace and productive civilian life would be “diverted” to extensive political campaigns.
Mohagher Iqbal, chief of the MILF peace accord implementing panel and regional education minister, affirmed that in a scale of 1 to 10, his assessment of the interim BARMM government’s gains ranged between 3 and 4. Icbal is also co-chair of the Inter-Governmental Relations Body (IGRB), a body composed of MILF and state officials, which is still halfway in causing the devolution of national assets and powers to the BARMM governance.
In his statement, Cardinal Quevedo said he fully rallies the peace process in Muslim Mindanao to develop the most backward region in the country. He endorsed the extension of the BTA for another three years from 2022. Elections could be held during the mid-term polls in 2025.
He corroborated national and regional officials’ assertion that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as well as security and bureaucratic setbacks have affected the BTA to speed up its legislation of fundamental codes and implementation of other mandated processes.