By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – People from various sectors across the country join the bandwagon of support for an extended Bangsamoro transitional government, floating an online signature drive for President Duterte to “certify as urgent” the bills resetting to 2025 the first election of 80 parliament members of the infant autonomous region.
The latest yet subtle pro-extension drive came in an online signature campaign launched last week through various social media platforms including email modules via Gmail and Yahoo networks. The group behind the campaign has adopted no name yet, but a copy of its petition reached the Philippine Muslim Today news on Saturday, Feb. 13.
The petition cited the “limited number of session days” by Congress before it adjourns sine die on June 4 this year as a principal reason necessitating President Duterte to “certify as urgent” the Senate and House bills supporting strides for moving the first election of 80 regular Bangsamoro parliament members from 2022 to 2025.
It also mentioned as another vital premise the expressed commitment of President Duterte to “leave a lasting legacy for peace and inclusive development in the Bangsamoro and allover Mindanao.”
Two Senate bills and four of five similar measures in the House of Representatives pushing for amendment of R.A. 11054 or Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) to postpone the 2022 regional polls in order to extend the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) operations. A fifth House bill authored by Lanao Norte Rep. Khalid Dimaporo wants the BTA lifespan extended to 2028 but pushes for the conduct of the 2022 polls on schedule.
The two Senate bills were introduced by Senators Koko Pimentel and Richard Gordon after House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and House Deputy Speaker Isidro Ungab filed similar bills in the lower legislative chamber to postpone the 2022 polls and extend the lifespan of the BTA, the interim governing body of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
On Feb. 12, BARMM spokesman and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo announced the conduct in Feb. 4-5 of a webinar in Davao City, during which Senator Pia Hontiveros reportedly expressed support to the intent and context of the two Senate bills, and mentioned about either co-authoring the measures or filing a separate bill.
Prior to the filing of the two Senate bills, BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim welcomed the polls-postponing House bills as “acceptable” to the regional officialdom and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The MILF, in pursuit of its 2013 and 2014 accords with the government that evolved to the passage of R.A. 11054 and the creation of BARMM, steers principally the operations of the 80-member BTA and the regional bureaucracy. Ebrahim is also the chairman of the MILF central committee.
Uncertain source of MILF decommissioning fund
Rep. Dimaporo, in a video clip copy-furnished the Philippine Muslim Today news, said he was supportive of the BTA lifespan extension even up to 2028, but filed his separate bill to ascertain the source of P40-billion needed in bankrolling the normalization track or decommissioning of P40,000 MILF combatants and their firearms.
Is the sum chargeable to the annual BARMM block grant or from the yearly general appropriations?” he asked.
The BARMM now comprises the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Cotabato, Marawi and Lamitan as well as 63 villages in five North Cotabato provinces.
Objection to BTA extension
The camps of Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi have openly rejected the calls for BTA lifeline extension, citing various reasons ranging from alleged operational lapses to lack of BARMM services to their constituencies. Mayor Guiani stood pat on her petition before the Supreme Court questioning the conduct of plebiscite that led to the inclusion of her turf in the territory of regional autonomy.
House Deputy Speaker and Basilan lone Rep. Mujiv Hataman, who has been perceived as against the extension call, filed last month a resolution seeking the conduct of a “mid-term review” of the BARMM operations before the conduct of deliberations of supportive bills.
Minister Sinarimbo, a lawyer and former executive secretary of the abolished BARMM territory last ruled by Hataman as regional governor, rejected the call for “mid-term review,” saying its deliberation will sway away the attention of lawmakers to tackle the poll-postponing bills within a critical timeline of Congress sessions’ adjournment sine die this coming June 4.
Sinarimbo branded the “mid-term review” call as a “dilatory tactic” by opposing quarters to derail the passage of bills filed as early as Dec. 1, 2020.
Bandwagon of pro-extension drive
Leaders of Muslim, Christian and lumad sectors led respectively by the governors of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Tawi-Tawi and their constituent mayors; Cardinal Orlando Quevedo; and North Cotabato Gov. Nancy Catamco, of mixed Manono tribe lineage, have openly endorsed the call for extending the BTA lifeline, citing the need for peace accords to translate into robust autonomy for stable peace and sustainable growth in BARMM and nearby areas.
Sulu Rep. Munir Arbison alongside the “Save Sulu Movement” and a group of Basilan mayors led by Lamitan City’s lady chief Furigay have also endorsed the same extension campaign.
Imperative Presidential push
The online signature campaign pleading for President Duterte’s certification of enabling bills as “urgent” followed an earlier assertion by Rep. Mangudadatu that such presidential intervention could make the difference for the calls.
“I am optimistic that the Senate and House bills postponing the 2022 elections and extending the BTA lifeline will be passed by Congress. And the Presidential certification will make the process swifter,” Mangudadatu said in an earlier interview by the Philippine Muslim Today news.
A group called “1Bangsamoro Movement” has also batted earlier for a similar call for Presidential certification.
Extension not personality based
In separate forums, MILF vice Chair and BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal and Parliament Member-lawyer Jose Lorena have explained that the call for BTA extension is “not about “holding onto power,” but for interim officials to fully build the foundations of stable peace and faster regional growth through the operation of a robust autonomous entity.
Lorena even mentioned possible insertion in the bills of a provision authorizing the President or Chief Minister Ebrahim to fully revamp the BTA membership. AGM