Passage of bill extending BTA term possible in May

By Ali G. Macabalang

Photo shows BTA Parliament Member cum Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal in a huddle with news editor of the Philippine Muslim Today news in Cotabato City on March 27, 2021. (Photo by Nur-Ali Macabalang)

COTABATO CITY

Congress is likely to pass in May a bill postponing the 2022 regional parliament polls to extend the term of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to 2025 once they secure a Presidential “urgent” certification, and willing to hold special sessions if the need for legislation entail beyond the Congressional adjournment sine die on June 4

BTA Parliament Member and Regional Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal bared the “good news” in a huddle with

the Philippine Muslim Today news at the sideline of the ceremonial transfer of more assets and functions of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MoTC) here on Saturday, March 27.

Iqbal joined the turnover over rite to give it more meaning being commemorative of the signing on March 27, 2014 of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government. He signed the CAB as chief peace panelist of the MILF. The CAB served as principal basis of R.A. 11054, which created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in 2019.

In his speech, Iqbal described the DoTC-MoTC turnover rite as a “milestone” in the devolution of concerned national agencies’ powers and assets to BARMM governance in a comprehensive process facilitated by the Inter-Governmental Relations Body (IGRB). He and Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez co-chair the IGRB.

Iqbal said the IGRB has so far achieved “50 percent or halfway” in the devolution process, something he described as equally imperative for completion side-by-side with the BTA strides for enactment of basic laws or codes for robust regional autonomous governance.

In the huddle with the Philippine Muslim Today news, Iqbal said the gathering of online support for extension has already exceeded by 200,000 the target one million signatures, and that such campaign result coupled with a clear manifesto has ready been transmitted to Congress and President Duterte. The drive was particularly meant for the President to certify a harmonized version of the six bills as “urgent” for Congress to hasten the legislative grill.

Prior to the submission of the manifesto with 1.2 million signatures, Iqbal said, the President convened top BARMM officials led by Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim alongside Senate President Tito Sotto and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to discuss the snowballing clamor for BTA term extension.

At the meeting, Iqbal said, Sotto and Velasco have corroborated the essence of a Presidential priority push, and assured to expedite the legislation of the polls-delaying bill once the Chief Executive certifies the measure “urgent.”

Congress has only less than a dozen of regular session days before in adjournment sine die on June 4, but Iqbal said Senate President Sotto and Speaker Velasco also committed to hold special sessions for the passage of the bill.

Asked for his optimistic forecast on a possible Congressional timetable for the bill passage, Iqbal said the stakeholders’ awaited moment “will likely happen in May” this year.

The CAB, signed on March 27, 2014, and BOL prescribe a three-year lifespan for the BTA – the interim ruling body of the BARMM – ending upon election of the 80 regular regional parliament members in the 2022 synchronized local, regional and national polls.

On instigation by peace stakeholders from civil society groups (CSOs), the BTA passed a resolution last November calling for postponement of the 2022 regional polls and seeking a term extension due to perceived lack of time for it to enact all fundamental codes of the BARMM bureaucracy. The extension will also enable national authorities to fully decommission the MILF’s 40,000 combatants and transform them to productive civilian life, the resolution stated.  

Lawmakers heeded the resolution with the filing of four bills in the House and two in the Senate that similarly seek to postpone the 2022 regional polls as a prerequisite to extend the BTA term up to 2025.

The bills of Senators Dick Gordon and Koko Pimentel have reportedly been referred to concerned committee, while the earlier filed bills of Maguindanao Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, Majority Floor Leader Martin Romualdez and Deputy Speaker Isidro Ungab have already started undergoing join-committee hearings in the lower chamber.

In the same huddle, meanwhile, Iqbal said Maguindanao Gov. Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu has aired categorical support for the call for BTA term extension, during a recent meeting with top officials concerned.

The lady governor broke her silence in past meetings in Mindanao and Manila during which her husband, Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu had aired once in the presence of President Duterte about his objection to postponement of the 2022 regional polls.

Iqbal earlier said the silence of Mangudadatu in the presence of her husband’s expressed dissent was perceived to be a conjugal decision. AGM

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