Ali G. Macalabang
As of 6:20a.m. Thursday, at least 1,008,056 signatures have been mustered in the nationwide online signature drive aimed at persuading President Duterte into certifying one of six bills in Congress (two in the Senate and four in the House) as urgent. All such bills have common purpose – postponing the 2022 election for the 80 regular members of the new autonomous region and extending the lifespan of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to 2025.
The incumbent members of BTA, an interim ruling body of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), are all appointees of the President for a three-year term ending upon the election and qualification in 2022 of their successors. Their interim Chief Minister is Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that forged with the government two major peace deals – the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2013 and the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014.
Both FAB and CAB are parts of the basis of Congress to enact in July 2018 Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or R.A. 11054, which was ratified in January 2019. The edict’s ratification paved the way for the creation of the BARMM and the abolition of the 29-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The BOL mandates two main thrusts – normalization track and political track. The first track calls for decommissioning of the MILF’s 40,000 combatants and their firearms, and the provision of P1-million socio-economic aid package for each decommissioned member in a grand design to transform the combatants into peaceful and productive civilian life. The second track calls for enactment of codes meant to build a robust autonomous parliament government.
The interim BARMM bureaucracy was formally installed by President Duterte on March 29, 2019 but it initially began operating with heads of infant ministries (backed by workforces inherited momentarily from defunct ARMM) in July of same year. Henceforth, BARMM ministries spent time transitioning from phasing out ARMM positions to creating new administrative structures and recruiting new personnel in processes still continuing to date.
As the BARMM governance started receiving initial tranches of block grant and regular national subsidies, the social movements-restraining Coronavirus pandemic struck all corners of the world. The national government was forced to divert resources, including likely funds intended for aids for the decommissioning of MILF forces, to address spread of the viral pandemic. BARMM normal functions have also slowed down, just as other state entities experienced.
Last November, independent non-government entities assisting the Mindanao peace process have discovered the lack of ample time for the BTA to deliver its mandates, and recommended a three-year extension in its term. BARMM big wigs agreed with the suggestion and launched campaign for the purpose. The campaign redounded to the filing of six enabling bills in Congress.
The bills have just started undergoing committee hearings. Stakeholders are apprehensive that tie is too tight for the legislature pass an enabling law because it has, as of press time, 20 or less session days left before it goes on June 4 adjournment sine die.
Top BARMM officials led by ICM Ebrahim, lawmakers and governors from the autonomous region were convened in Manila last Tuesday by the Palace represented by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. The governors of Sulu and Maguindanao asserted for the conduct of the 2022 polls as scheduled, while other meeting attendees batted on the contrary, Maguindanao Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, author of a bill postponing the polls, said.
Sec. Lorenzana, according to Mangudadatu, listened to the conflicting views and took note of them for “review” by the legal luminaries of of the Justice Department and the Palace. He reportedly announced the conduct next week of a similar round of meeting to convey the “review” result.
Meantime, Rep. Mangudadatu and BTA Parliament Member-lawyer Jose Lorenzana have been asserting that the conduct of the 2022 polls, if not postponed, would bring about and complex situation.
They said the BTA has yet to enact an electoral code defining mechanics of party accreditation and legislative district zoning – something different from the national or Commission on Election standards.
Mangudatatu said if Congress will not grant an extension, it must legislative a special law defining the conduct of the election particularly for the parliamentary setup in BARMM.
Where will the parliament candidates file certificates of candidacy? Under what party are they going to seek electoral mandate? These were questions MP Lorenzana and Rep. Mangudadatu asked.
But, in an unlikely failure in the call for extension, the MILF nominee-candidates will be forced run under the official party – United Bangsamoro Justice Party to slug it out with candidates from other quarters, most likely fielded by incumbent governors, congressmen and mayors in BARMM.
The question is: Are we certain that the regular funds and block grant for BARMM’s vital projects will be spared from being used to ensure the victory of the MILF nominees including Ebrahim, who has to retain his reign as CM?
The use of even a single cent from the regular funds is a form of corruption. Pilfering 1 centavo is no different from stealing a billion pesos in the context of morality and legality. What happens now to the touted “moral governance?”
In a nutshell, the moral and legal option for state authorities is to grant the extension call.
In my case as journalist, whether there is going to be BARMM election or otherwise, life is the same. Poll activities, in fact, are called in ordinary media people’s circle as “harvest time” since candidates will be greasing their campaign with propagandas tapping journalists. AGM