Zubiri says BARMM poll-deferring bill passage imminent in Senate 

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY — Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Friday said the bill seeking to extend the lifespan of Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) is likely to gain prompt approval in their chamber when the 18th Congress resumes sessions this month.

“We in the senate are in the final stages of passing the bill postponing the BARMM elections, so that you will be able to deliver our promises to our people of (achieving) peace and prosperity…Within a month’s time, we will get it done,” Zubiri told the first Bangsamoro governance summit here on Friday, July 23 via Zoom.

Senate Bill 2214, which seeks to reset the 2022 Bangsamoro parliament poll to extend the BTA transitional period to 2025, was about to be approved on second reading on June 3, but the chamber leadership went on adjournment sine die after learning that the House version was still at committee-level deliberation.   

Sen. Zubiri lauded the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) interim officialdom in holding consultations to assess its governance, ascertain the needs in the countryside, and uplift its constituents’ well-being.

“I am very happy to see that despite the challenges of this pandemic, the BTA and our LGUs are able to hold much-needed consultations to identify the needs of our people,” said Zubiri, who has played vital role in processes involved in the evolution of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to BARMM.

The 80-seat BTA is the interim BARMM governing body set to cease operation upon election of its regular parliament members in the 2022 polls.

Zubiri said “consultations are necessary for the BTA to successfully parlay the BOL-mandated budget into meaningful projects and programs that will really reach our people at the grassroots level.” BOL stands for Bangsamoro Organic Law, otherwise known as R. A. 11054, which Congress enacted in July 2018 to create BARMM.

The lawmaker from Bukidon, who authored the BOL in the Senate, also lauded the BARMM interim governance for budgeting its annual block grant and national subsidies to education, public works, agriculture and fisheries, health, social services and vital infrastructures that can bring the new autonomous region to greater heights.

Though expressed via Zoom, Zubiri’s remarks drew resounding applause from summit organizers led by BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, and delegates from provinces, cities, towns, and villages comprising the new autonomous region.

Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo graced the summit physically, and read a written message from Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go before conveying his own thoughts of BARMM creation as a legacy of the Duterte administration in the search for meaningful autonomy, stable peace and equitable growth in the region.

Secretary Panelo also portrayed brighter prospects in the new autonomous region, but his own speech did not stir enthusiasm as much as Zubiri’s among many of summit delegates, especially journalists, who deemed his presence replete with promises reflective of his inkling for a senatorial bid in next year’s national elections.

During lunch break, Panelo busied himself having selfies with everybody and even journalists, who interviewed and pressed him to explain earlier reported assertion by him that a plebiscite is needed if the BARMM poll would be reset from 2022. His stand contrasted the Justice Department view that no plebiscite is needed as exemplified in the past deferments of polls in Muslim Mindanao by Congress. (Read a separate story about his interview.)

The summit was organized by the BARMM officialdom through the Ministry of Interior and Local Government (MILG) to sum up the results of pre-summits in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi and the clustered 63 autonomy-opting barangays in North Cotabato.

MILG Minister Naguib Sinatimbo said pre-summits allowed the provincial and municipal LGUs to submit high-impact proposed projects for harmonization with the BARMM government priorities for funding under the regional budget for 2022 and to do away with contrasting thrusts and past instances of duplicate subsidies on similar strides.

Sinarimbo presented his ministry’s thrusts in upgrading the operations of LGUs in BARMM requiring the presence of: Well-equipped government centers; Active elected and appointed officials; Functional local special bodies; Approved mandated plans and budgets; Available, visible and accessible basic services; and Sound fiscal management.

He hinted at the need for the BARMM governance to make a difference in the evolution of autonomy since the Marcos regime. The national government had viewed the previous autonomous governments as “failed experiment” or “failed autonomy.”

In separate speeches, Chief Minister Ebrahim and Senior Minister Abdulraof Macacua echoed their administration’s vision and mission to operate under the principle of “moral governance,” underscoring transparency, functionality and responsible governance. The summit was among the enabling measures that can flesh out such vision and mission.

Ebrahim admitted challenges to pursuance of ideal administration in the 27-month old BARMM, especially with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic at its infancy that prompted regional and national officials as well as concerned civil society groups to call for an extension in the interim operations of the regional governance.

Lawmakers have responded to the call for extension in the BTA lifespan to 2025 by deferring the 2022 election for the first 80 regular parliament members.

A substitute enabling bill and four versions are pending deliberation in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. (AGM)

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