By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Once deemed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its allies as enemy, Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol today, April 8, declared that he personally and officially is backing the call for a three-year extension in the lifespan of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) for it to fully flesh out the “legacy” attained by the Duterte government’s establishment of a more promising autonomous region in the south.
In a video clip crafted at the foreground an MILF camp in Maguing, Lanao del Sur, Sec. Piñol urged Filipinos to “give peace a chance” by helping persuade Congress to pass a bill to postpone the 2022 regional polls and extend the BTA term to 2025.
The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) and I, in both my official and personal capacities, support the move to extend the transition period of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) for another three years,” he said.
Piñol, a veteran-journalist-turned politician and bureaucrat, is the incumbent chairperson of the MinDA. The President installed him MinDA chief in August 2019 after he resigned as Agriculture secretary in protest of some provisions in the Race Tarrification Law he had deemed as anti-farmers and pro-oligarchs or cartels.
“I know that this (declaration of support for BTA extension) which I had taken would come as a surprise to many observers given my reputation as one of the fiercest critics (of the MILF) in the past,” Piñol said, hinting at his 2008 initiation of a petition that led the Supreme Court to nullify the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD).
Six bills – two in the Senate and four in the House of Representatives – have been filed for the similar purpose, as leaders from the Muslim, Christian and indigenous people’s sectors have taken turns in justify the campaign rationale that a three-year lifespan for the BTA is “too short” for it to fulfill its mandates under R.A. 11054 and two major state peace deals with the MILF.
Various civil society organizations across the country have collectively launched a signature campaign to persuade President Duterte to certify one of the bills as “urgent” to cause its swift legislation before Congress adjourns sine die on June 4. The campaign originally sought one million online signatures, but it actually mustered 1.2 million, it was learned.
According to MILF and BARMM officials, Senate President Tito Sotto and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco had recently assured to hold even special sessions to pass a harmonized bill postponing the 2022 election of parliament members and extend the BTA operational term to 2025.
“Indeed, the performance of the current officials of the BARMM is far from excellent but they are evidently trying their best. We must give them a little leeway and understanding given the fact that they are former rebels who are thrust into a new task of governing a huge political territory for the first time,” Piñol said.
“From using guns to impose and pursue a dream, they (MILF) now utilize the law and government instrumentalities to provide their people a better life. Their capabilities in running a huge government bureaucracy still leave a lot of room for improvement,” he said.
He said the MILF-led regional governance is “sometimes slow and too cautious in their decision-making but I would personally rate their performance as ‘better than most’ with no intent to denigrate the previous leaders of the region.”
“Some of them are still afflicted with ‘this-is-ours’ syndrome where they claim exclusive right to govern the BARMM since they fought for it. This is something which must be corrected because they must work with other stakeholders in the region to succeed,” Piñol said.
“From the outside, I see a group of former rebels working hard to deliver the dreams that they shared with their people, including the former combatants who lost loved ones in their half-century struggle. Operating and moving inside the Autonomous Region, I could smell the fresh air of hope for peace, tranquility and progress,” he said.
Pñol averred: “While I was considered as Public Enemy No. 1 of the MILF when I was Governor of North Cotabato, I could now freely travel even at night in formerly perilous areas within the region in the performance of my job as MinDA Chairman.”
“Outside of the BARMM, people, especially in my home province of North Cotabato, enjoy new-found stability and a sense of security. Gone are the ambuscades, the attacks on villages, the kidnappings, the bombings and other forms atrocity in the past which were part of the realities of a revolutionary struggle,” he said.
“So, instead of questioning their capability to govern, let us support them. Rather than despise the slow-paced and cautious implementation of projects, let us help empower them,” he added.
“The gains of peace are simply too clear and the effects so comforting to ignore. The peace (shaped by the BARMM establishment) under the Duterte government is a defining moment in our history as a nation. We must not squander this chance of enjoying blessings of peace in Mindanao,” the outspoken Piñol said.
“This is the best legacy that our generation could bequeath to the Filipinos of tomorrow. Let us give peace a chance,” Sec. Piñol said in concluding his video message.
A couple of weeks ago, the MinDA led by Piñol has formalized with the BARMM Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agrarian Reform, and the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) a joint partnership piloting a banner cattle raising program at the MILF’s Camp Darapanan to help MILF former combatants earn livelihood, enable the BARMM active participation in the trillion dollar global halal development markets, and make life better in the Bangsamoro. AGM