By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Despite President Duterte’s expressed neutrality in the debate over the call for postponement of the 2022 regional Parliament polls to extend the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) lifespan to 2025, proponents remain upbeat about a Congressional approval of an enabling law.
Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, author of one of four House enabling bills, and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) are also upbeat about continuity in the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or R.A. 11054 provisions by new administrations after the Duterte government.
Palace Spokesman Harry Roque on June 26 said the President has decided not to certify as urgent the poll-deferring bill, and opted for Congress decide due purportedly to factors – was the disagreement among elected Muslim leaders, and another was the contrasting views of the Presidential legal counsel and the Justice Department on the issue of whether or not postponing elections would need a plebiscite.
Senate and House leaders had earlier assured to pass the enabling bill once certified priority by the President, saying they could hold special sessions to do it. Senator Francis Tolentino’s bill was on second reading approval stage, while the House versions were at committee-level before both chambers adjourned sine die on June 4.
Rep. Mangudadatu said the President’s neutrality did not mean abandonment of his favor for a BTA extended term. In fact, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) will be more active in dealing with Congress for the passage of the measure, he hinted.
This was corroborated by lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesman and Local Government minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) interim governance.
Sinarimbo said the President had confided to BARMM officials his “preference” for BTA lifespan in his two meetings at Malacañang with Muslim regional and provincial leaders on June 16 and 24, during which he announced neutrality.
In a recent virtual media briefing, OPAPP Undersecretary David B. DicianoandAssistant Secretary Wilben Mayor have aired similar enthusiasm. Apart from the PLLO efforts, the OPAPP was also holding a “series of meetings” with Congress leaders and key members for the passage of the pending bills before the filing of candidacies on October 1- 6 for the May 2022 synchronized elections, they said.
Responding to a query from the Philippine Muslim Today news, Diciano and Mayor said that in an unlikely failure of Congress to extend the BTA operations before the lapse of President Duterte’s office term, stakeholders need not to worry because any succeeding administration is mandated to continue fulfilling the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and R.A. 11054.
CAB was forged by the government under late President Noynoy Aquino’s regime and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014. It was legally translated in R.A. 11054, the BARMM Charter known also as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) enacted in July 2018 under the Duterte administration.
The CAB and the BOL as well as the Framework of Agreement on the Bangsamoro of 2013 were byproducts of the years of peace negotiations between the MILF and the government as an institution, not by particular Presidents. The government, therefore, under any sitting President is obliged to pursue the provisions in the peace accords and the BOL, according to the OPAPP officials.
The two major mandates of the CAB and BOL include the Normalization and Political Tracks, which are far below half completion. The Normalization Track requires the decommissioning of the MILF’s 40,000-member combat force, and the Political Track prescribes for the building of a parliamentary government structure in BARMM.
Rep. Mangudadatu said the House of Representatives has created a technical working group (TWG) to harmonize his bill with those of Deputy Speakers Loren Legarda and Isidro Ungab, and Majority Leader Martin Romualdez as well as that of Lanao del Norte Rep. Khalid Dimaporo.
Mangudadatu, who chairs the House Committee on Peace, Unity and Reconciliation, posted on Monday in Facebook pages a video of his interaction with key members of the TWG.
In his virtual media briefing on July 7, the Manguindanao lawmaker appealed for support from his colleagues in the lower chamber, saying the Presidential neutrality has placed the fate of the poll-postponing bill in their hands.
He renewed his assertion that the establishment of the BARMM preceded painstaking sacrifices among Bangsamoro people, notably the MILF in the decades-old dream for meaningful peace and equitable growth in the poverty-gripped and conflict-laden autonomous region.
Mangudadatu admitted that while the majority of people, civil society groups and the local government units in BARMM have rallied the call for an extended BTA interim operations to 2025 through formal petitions and three major motor caravans, there are some sectors including a few lawmakers continuing to oppose.
“In spite of overwhelming clamor for the transition extension, may mga kasamahan tayo na sadyang nakukulangan sa mga nagawa ng kasalukuyang pamunuan ng BTA patungkol sa paglalatag ng isang matibay na pundasyon para sa maayos, epektibo, makabuluhan, at mapagkalingang pamamahala sa rehiyon under an autonomous setting,” he said.
“They (opposing people) argue: The BTA is underperforming, so why reward the BTA’s inefficiency with a three-year extension?” he added.
But Mangudadatu pointed out that the BARMM government structure as provided for in RA No. 11054 is different from the national and local government set-ups. It had to start from scratch, and as such, the present BTA has to contend not only with the interim governing body (BTA) of the BARMM but also in crafting the foundational codes needed in a firm parliamentary bureaucracy. (AGM)