By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – People and groups calling for an extended transitional period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) were dismayed over the failure of President Duterte to push for or mention about the clamor in his sixth and final State-of-the-National Address (SONA), the country’s longest so far.
The President delivered his last SONA last July 26, exactly three years after he signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or R.A. 11054 or BARMM charter in 2018. This vital fact made movants of a Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) lifespan highly expectant of an enabling Presidential announcement.
But in his 286-minute speech, Duterte mentioned just a two-liner sentence in both his written narrative and ad libs:
“With the help of Congress, we were able to pass the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, finally fulfilling a promise that was decades in the making.”
Since last November, petitions, rallies and caravans driven by 1.2-million signatures have been made to persuade Malacañang and Congress into deferring the 2022 BARMM election and extending the BTA lifespan to 2025 for it to amply accomplish its mandates under the BOL and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) inked by the government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014.
On many occasions, cabinet officials had mentioned the President as “supportive” of the clamor, reportedly cognizant of the adverse effects of the Coronavirus on government functionaries including those of the BTA – the interim ruling body in BARMM.
Last June 24, Palace Spokesman Harry Roque announced that the President had adopted neutrality on the clamor and left Congress to decide on it due to two factors: the disagreement among BARMM officials and political leaders on the issue; and contrasting opinions of the Justice Department and the Presidential Chief Legal Counsel’s office on the question of whether or not postponing the BARMM polls would need a plebiscite.
Days before the SONA delivery, movants including even members of the MILF’s United Bangsamoro Justice Party and led by the Civil Society Organizations Movement for Moral Governance (CSOMMG) staged last ditch caravans, hoping the President would change mind and ask Congress to approve enabling bills pending deliberation.
Alas, the President, who considers the BARMM creation as his legacy on peace-building, just mentioned the two-liner sentence in his final SONA. He asked Congress to pass at least five measures excluding the pending bills on 2022 BARMM polls and BTA interim period extension.
“We’re disappointed that the President did not mention the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro as a priority bill. Nevertheless, we will not stop appealing to him and lobbying before Congress to pass a law extending the transition period in the Bangsamoro region,” Samsodin Amella of the CSOMMG) said in a report.
The 1BANGSA, a nationwide Bangsamoro group led by Alan Balangi-Amer, said “Congress now can to play its noble duty to build a just and humane society,” and sustain the national legacy via approval of the measure represented by a bill in the Senate and four similar versions in the House.
Several nitizens took to the social similar sentiments, saying the President touted BARMM as his legacy but seemed “not concern” about seeing the new parliament-styled autonomous governance lead towards fruition.
Nonetheless, top BARMM officials and Muslim lawmakers remained hopeful that the 18th Congress will postpone the regional polls and extend the BTA interim operations, citing a corresponding support by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP).
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri told a summit here of BARMM officials and political leaders on July 23 the higher chamber was likely to pass the poll-deferring bill in a month’s time.
Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu said he remained confident that the House versions will also be harmonized by a technical working group and passed in plenary possibly in time with the Senate schedule.
“We are just waiting for the signal from Speaker (Lord Allan) Velasco for our swift deliberation,” said Mangudadatu, who authored one of four similar bills in the House.
BARMM Education Minister and MILF Vice Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, who like Mangudadatu physically attended the SONA delivery, conveyed similar optimism. He believed that extending the BTA transitional operations will be “more beneficial” for the national and regional governments as well as the Bangsamoro people than the opposite.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, BARMM spokesman and Local Government minister, said he had not watched the SONA but he and other regional officials remained optimistic for a favorable Congressional action.
“While the President is openly neutral, he has his way of seeing a positive action in Congress to sustain the essence of his legacies including the BARMM governance and its functionaries,” Sinarimbo said.
Sinarimbo and Mangudadatu have expressed sentiments about Congress taking consideration of facts that several elections in the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) had been postponed without a plebiscite held. (AGM)