By Ali G. Macabalang
Hundreds of thousands from Muslim, Christian and Indigenous People’s (IP) communities took to the streets on Monday another peace caravan to beseech an “urgent” Presidential push for the passage of bills extending the term of Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim ruling body of the new parliament-style autonomy in Mindanao.
At least 15,000 four-wheel vehicles and motorbikes carrying multitude of appellants cruised the highway adjoining the adjoining provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato and the cities of Cotabato and Tacurong to sound off one voice for President Duterte to certify as “urgent” one or more of six Congressional bills postponing the 2022 regional parliament election to 2025, according police and Army security contingents.
The caravan goers clustered themselves into groups and spent stopovers at the Provincial Capitol complex of Sultan Kudarat in Isulan town and at the seat of the North Cotabato provincial government in Kidapawan City where elected officials joined them in delivering ardent pleas for a Presidential intervention amid the slimming number of less than 15 session days left in the two chambers of Congress before their adjournment sine die on June 4.
Maguindanao Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, author of one of four enabling bills in the House, led his supporters from adjoining Buluan, Datu Paglas, Pandag, Mangudadatu and Paglat towns, lined up along roadsides, and served every passing caravan vehicles with “light foods” and ”cold water,” according to a social media post shared by Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM)
The mass actions jived with Monday’s anniversary recollection by other Bangsamoro people of the so-called 1968 “Jabiddah massacre” of dozens of young Moro purportedly recruited and trained by the military under the Marcos government to invade Malaysia. One of the recruits, Jibin Arula, survived the mass execution by swimming from Corregidor Island to the coast of Cavite, and exposed the incident that sparked a new Moro rebellion in Mindanao.
Young political leaders and academic leaders led by Professor Nur Misuari and the late Abulkhayr Alonto organized the Moro National Liberation Front (MLNF). The MNLF later splintered into three factions, one of which is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Both MNLF and MILF had forged peace accords of the government, and the latter’s deal now serves as the basis for the passage of the current charter of the BARMM governance.
At Monday’s mass actions, Rep. Mangudadatu renewed his appeal to fellow lawmakers and Malacañang to “value the prevailing peace” brought about initially by the creation of the BARMM after the loss of over 120,000 in several years of MNLF and MILF rebellion.
At Barangay Amas here, the seat of the North Cotabato provincial government, Gov. Nancy Catamco joined over a dozen of Caravan goers’ speakers in beseeching President Duterte’s intervention, conveying optimism though that “with our continuous prayers,” a law postponing the 2022 election for regional parliament members and extending the BARMM’s interim ruling body lifespan will be passed in due time.
Catamco said she has sensed the “sincerity” of the current leaders in the bringing to greater heights the condition of Bangsamoro region, citing the recent launch of P1.8-billion worth of road concreting projects and construction of three barangays halls wothj P3.6-million each for the 63 North Cotabato villages that opted for inclusion in BARMM in the Feb. 6, 2019 plebiscite.
Similar caravan with the same purpose was staged along the highways of the two Lanao provinces and the cities of Marawi and Iligan on March 13. The Lanao caravan goers heralded the mustering of over a million signatures via an online campaign for a Presidential certification of an enabling bill for extended BTA transition lifespan.
Various reasons have been cited as factors in the call for longer BTA operation, one of which is the Coronavirus pandemic that stunted legislation of regional codes for full BARMM bureaucracy and forced the national government to use big resources in fighting the viral disease. It was believed that funds for the decommissioning of the MILF’s 40,000 combatants to transform them to peaceful and productive live formed part of the spent resources.
On the eve of Monday’s caravan, Basilan Gov. Jim Hataman-Salliman and his mayors’ league met BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim to reiterate their full support for the term extension campaign.
Six bill calling for postponement of the 2022 regional election and extending the BTA operational term to 2025 are pending in Congress – two in the Senate authored by Senators Dick Gordon and Koko Pimentel, and four in the House introduced by Rep. Mangudadatu, House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, Majority Floor Leader Martin Romualdez and Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.
Rep. Mangudadatu earlier said he was confident about the desire of many lawmakers to pass the bills, but Duterte’s “urgent” certification will hasten the process, amid the fact that Congress now has only a dozen of session days left before their adjournment sine die on June 4.