Bangsamoro law ratified; how soon can transition from ARMM to BARMM begin?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 January) — Exactly four years after the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano Tragedy in Maguindanao that left 66 persons dead and effectively killed the chance to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Commission on Elections on January 25, 2019 proclaimed that RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has been ratified by majority of the people in the proposed core territory of the new autonomous political entity that is touted to be the “last chance” for peace in the decades old struggle of the Bangsamoro people to establish a government of the Moro, by the Moro and for the Moro, inclusive of the non-Moro settlers and Indigenous Peoples as provided by the law.

The results of Monday’s plebiscite show the law was ratified in the five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and in Cotabato City.

A Moro woman holds on to her child as she casts her vote in a polling precinct in Simuay Junction Central Elementary School in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 21, 2019, day of the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Law. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Isabela City in Basilan rejected inclusion in the BARMM, as did Sulu, but Sulu will be part of the BARMM because the law provides that the ARMM votes as “one geographical area,” a provision the province questioned, among others, in its pending petition before the Supreme Court. The four other ARMM provinces voted “yes” – Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur including Marawi City, Basilan including Lamitan City, and Tawi-tawi.

Out of a total of 1,980,441 registered voters in the ARMM, 1,540,017 voted “yes” (77.76%) while 198,750 voted “no” (10.04%). A total of 1,738,767 actually voted for a voter turnout of 87.80%. (Read: For now, BARMM is ARMM plus Cotabato City)

On February 6, voters in Lanao del Norte’s six towns and in 67 villages in seven North Cotabato towns will troop to the polls to decide on their inclusion in the BARMM. But even if they say yes, they can be part of the BARMM only if their mother units – Lanao del Norte’s 16 other towns and the rest of the residents in the seven North Cotabato towns – also say yes.

The National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers proclaimed RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao ratified on 25 January 2019, four years after the Mamasapano Tragedy that killed the chance for the Bangsamoro Basic Law to be passed.

But how soon can the transition from ARMM to BARMM begin?

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez, Jr., told MindaNews Friday night that on Monday, his office will submit to the Office of the President the list of 80 nominees for appointment to the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by government and the MILF, the BTA which will be led by the MILF, will serve as the interim government until the first set of officials is elected on May 9, 2022 and the Bangsamoro government is inaugurated on June 30, 2022.

The law vests the BTA with legislative and executive powers, the executive exercised by the interim Chief Minister who shall be appointed by the President, and the legislative by the BTA, also appointed by the President.

The MILF’s nominee to the post of Chief Minister is MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, who has been chair since late July 2003, after Salamat Hashim succumbed to an illness.

Murad, who joined the revolutionary movement in 1969, first in the Moro National Libeation Front (MNLF) and later in the MILF, had earlier served as Vice Chair for Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), and concurrent MILF peace panel chair from 2001 to 2003.

Murad told MindaNews they had submitted to Galvez’ office names of 41 people they are nominating to the BTA. Forty-one represents the simple majority in the BTA.

BTA’s priorities

During the transition period, the BTA exercises all powers and functions of the Bangsamoro Government as provided in RA 11054.

The law mandates it to accomplish the following priority legislations during the transition: the Code of Parliamentary Rules and Procedures, Bangsamoro Administrative Code, Bangsamoro Tax and Revenue Code, Bangsamoro Electoral Code, Bangsamoro Local Government Code, Bangsamoro Education Code, Bangsamoro law for Indigenous Peoples, Bangsamoro Civil Service Code.

The BTA is supposed to immediately take over from the ARMM officials after the law is ratified.

But Congress inserted a provision – Section 5 — in Article XVI of RA 11054, providing for a transition to the BTA – a caretaker group – until the BTA is constituted, “to foreclose any political interregnum in the governance of the region.”

The CAB does not provide for a caretaker group but Section 5 of RA 11054 provides that the caretakers will be composed of 45 members: the 25 elected ARMM officials and the 20 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law (the substitute bill filed by Congress is now RA 11054).

The elected ARMM officials are the Governor, Vice Governor and 23 members of the Regional Legislative Assembly whose terms will end on June 30, 2019.

A BTC member explained to MindaNews last year that Section 5 was proposed to avoid a vacuum if the appointment of BTA members is delayed. The fear of delays is not without a precedent.

In the case of the 21-member BTC, the Executive Order creating it was issued on November 7, 2016 but it took the President three months – until February 10, 2017 — to name the 21-member BTC. (One of the 21 resigned at the height of the Marawi Siege in late May 2017).

In addition to the 80-member BTA, the law provides that the 25 elected ARMM officials will also serve in the transition body until their terms expire on June 30, 2019.

MILF-led, yes, but whose majority?

The MILF as the signatory to the CAB, will lead the BTA as it did the BTC where it has 11 members, including the chair, Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair.

The law provides that the MILF will lead the BTA “without prejudice to the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in its membership.”

The MNLF faction under Yusoph Jikiri and Muslimin Sema has three representatives in the BTC but MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari did not nominate anyone to represent his faction.

Although assured of leadership in the BTA as it is the signatory to the CAB, the MILF may end up a minority in the caretaker government or even the BTA, at least until June 30.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Murad Ebrahim, using his real name Ahod “Murad” Balawag Ebrahim, votes for the first time in his life on January 21, 2019 during the plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Law at the Simuay Junction Central Elementary School in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

In the 45-member caretaker government, the MILF has only 11 members – the 11 in the BTC. If the three MNLF representatives in the BTC are to be added to the MILF, that would be 14 which is just a third of the 45-member body. The majority is 23.

If the BTA is constituted in February, as Murad says they hope it will be, the BTA will have 105 members – the 80 BTA appointees plus the 25 elected ARMM officials who will serve only until their terms end on June 30, 2019.

The majority in the 105-member BTA (at least until June 30) is 53. After June 30, the simple majority would be 41.

Murad had earlier told MindaNews that they were asking Galvez’ office and the Presidential Management Staff which is vetting the nominees, to allow them to have additional nominees to ensure they are a majority in the BTA.

“Sana ma reconsider nila because we have to maintain our majority number in the BTA,” Murad said.

He said they hope the BTA would be constituted by February because the caretaker role is “not a functional government hindi kagaya ng BTA (unlike the BTA), it is a functional government.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)