MALACANANG (MindaNews /23 February) — A new chapter in Philippine history began on Friday, February 22, 2019 at the Rizal Hall here with the leadership of the two Moro liberation fronts that waged half a century of armed struggle to assert their right to self-determination, and representatives from other sectors of Moro society and the minorities in the core territory of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) taking their oath as members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that would govern the area until the first set of officials is elected and sworn into office on June 30, 2022.
Describing the historic event as welcoming a “new era of peace and development in Mindanao,” President Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s 16th President and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation, said, the road to peace may be long and rough, “but I am glad that we have finally reached its endpoint.”
The first Philippine President with Moro roots administered the oath of the BTA members, ending it with a Takbir, “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest) instead of the usual “So help me God.”
Duterte said the BARMM, the new political entity that will replace the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is not just the fulfillment of a campaign promise but “the realization of our collective desire … of all our dreams and end long decades of armed struggle that hindered the growth of the region (that) I also consider my home.”
He urged BTA members to “always embody the dreams and aspirations of the great men and women who came before you and fought for the recognition of your right to determine your future” and challenged them “never to waver in your commitment to build an institution that is founded on the rule of law, the promotion of good governance, and the defense (of) our most cherished democratic values.”
80 members but not yet 80
Under the peace agreement with the MILF, the 80-member BTA is to be led by the MILF. Duterte named MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim as Interim Chief Minister of the transition body whose full membership has yet to be constituted.
Forty-one of the members were nominated by the MILF while 39 were nominated by government but instead of 80 members, only 76 were able to take their oath, Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr., Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, told MindaNews. The final list of appointees has yet to be released by Malacanang.
Galvez declined to comment on 10 supposed appointees who were dropped from the list shortly before Friday noon but President Duterte told reporters after the oath-taking that he was late for the supposed 5 p.m. event because “may hinabol sila na late. May in-exchange.”
Galvez had met with 36 of the supposed final list of government’s 39 nominees on February 20 for introductions and briefing on the role of BTA, at the Manila Prince Hotel where the Bangsamoro delegation was billeted. The meeting lasted four hours and thirty minutes — from 1:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. – although Galvez was frank enough, according to those present, to inform them that as of that time, they were on the list.
MindaNews sources privy to the selection process said there was intense lobbying from politicians and some Cabinet members to either put the names of their recommendees into the list and in the last two days, to “exchange” some on the list with their protégés.
As quickly as some were “dropped” from the list, as quickly, too, did the replacements show up at the Palace.
The MILF’s initial list also had changes although only two were dropped from the original list and their alternates chosen way before February 20, the supposed date for oathtaking. The MILF’s final list of appointees includes 18 members of the MILF’s Central Committee, five of seven front commanders including what turned out to be the star of the show – Abdullah Macapaar alias Kumander Bravo – and a relative and daughter of the two front commanders who could not attend due to illness.
Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair and chair of the now defunct Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to draft the basic law for the Bangsamoro, arrived at the Rizal Hall on a wheelchair but stood up to take his oath, falling on his back seconds after Duterte shook his hand.
Only 40 of 41 nominees from the MILF were able to take their oath. The 41st nominee was unable to attend as she was recuperating from an ailment.
It was the government’s list of 39 that had various changes, from its original listing on January 21. On Friday, only one from the settler communities (also referred to generically as “Christians”) took her oath. The other nominee was dropped from the list. The non-Moro Indigenous Peoples had two representatives who took their oath — the two nominees of the MILF and government in the now-defunct BTC.
Another IP representative was already on the list and was supposed to have been the third IP representative and additional woman representative. She had in fact attended the Wednesday meeting-briefing but had to be told the bad news before noon.
Officials of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity had spent Friday morning breaking the tragic news and explaining to those dropped from the list.
“It was so difficult to do,” one of those who broke the sad news told MindaNews. “We are talking about cultural sensitivity here,” the source said, citing honor and pride of the Moro and Lumads. The nominated individuals were allowed to invite family representatives to be with them during the historic occasion. Now their names were stricken off the list and their seats taken over by the “instant” replacements.
“I guarantee that you and this administration will use all the resources within its disposal to ensure better governance and inclusive political empowerment in this new Bangsamoro region,” Duterte said in his 12-minute speech, the first half he read, the second half he delivered extemporaneously.
Before the oathtaking, Duterte received from Commission on Elections chair Sheriff Abas a framed copy of the certification that RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM has been ratified by a majority of the votes case in the January 21 and February 6 plebiscite.
The BARMM constitutes the five-province, two-city-116-town ARMM (Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan) and the additional territory comprising Cotabato City and 63 villages in six North Cotabato towns.
“On January 21 and February 6, an overwhelming majority of the registered voters of the proposed Bangsamoro territory went to their respective polling places not only to cast their ballots, but also to write a new chapter in the region’s history,” Dutert said.
He said the ratification of the law “will enable us to create an environment that will be conducive to peaceful coexistence between the Muslims, Christians, Lumads, and all tribes of this planet as indigenous peoples and settlers who will consider Mindanao as their home.”
He urged the BTA members to “always work for the best interest and welfare” not only of the Bangsamoro but “every Filipino who live in that region,” and that they would oversee the transition period to the best of their abilities, “especially in the decommissioning of firearms and former combatants.”
Duterte said he hopes everyone puts to rest “the bitter memories of the past so that we can build a new region that is bound, not by ethnic or religious affiliation, but by a common aspiration for peaceful coexistence among our fellow Filipinos.”
“We share your dreams and aspirations. We share all. But most of all, we would like to see an end of the violence that has rocked Mindanao and have cost so many lives for nothing,” the President said.
He assured the BTA members that for the remaining years of his term, he will “always do what the law says and what is yours and … to what extent that we can give you, not only comfort but happiness to the Muslims of Mindanao.”
Duterte ends his six-year term on June 30, 2022, the same day the BARMM is formally inaugurated.
“We do away with greed. We do away with oppression and especially we try. We can always try. Sometimes, it can be done. Sometimes it cannot be reached. But I pray that we will end the hate that pervaded our lives for so many years,” Duterte added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)