COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 29 March) – A former Deputy Speaker for Mindanao in the House of Representatives, was elected Speaker of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) during the inaugural session Friday of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Lawyer Ali Pangalian Macaorao Balindong, 79, four-term Representative of the second district of Lanao del Sur who was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 as member of Consultative Committee that reviewed the 1987 Constitution, was one of two nominees to the Speakership.
He was nominated by Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Peace Implementing Panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The other nominee is 47-year old lawyer Laisa Alamia, who served as Executive Secretary and Secretary of Social Welfare and Development of the now defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Alamia is now the Minority Leader.
The 69-year old Basilan-based Hatimil Hassan of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was elected Deputy Speaker.
At the turnover from the ARMM to the BARMM on February 26, interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim (MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim) named Ghazali Jaafar, 1st Vice Chair of the MILF who chaired the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, as Speaker and Balindong as Deputy Speaker who would serve as Speaker while Jaafar was recuperating.
Jaafar passed away in a hospital in Davao City on March 13.
Others elected to the posts — all of them running unopposed (except for the Speaker) — were Lanang Ali, Jr. as Majority Leader, Prof. Roby Angkal as Secretary-General and Dan Dimakenal as Sergeant at Arms.
The first part of the inaugural session was the announcement of the appointment of Sheikh Khalifa Usman Nando as the Wali, the ceremonial head of the Bangsamoro Government.
Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM provides that the Wali “shall only perform ceremonial duties such as opening the session of the Parliament, administering the oath of office, dissolving the Parliament upon the advice of the Chief Minister after a vote of no confidence against the government of the day, calling for election of a new Parliament, and attending to public ceremonies.
Nando took his oath before Ebrahim and in opening the inaugural session, said the BARMM is the “beginning of the harvest of the great sacrifices” that they had to go through as a people “in order to make this new autonomous government a success.”
The Wali mentioned the leaders of the MILF who had passed away – chair Salamat Hashim, Abdulaziz Mimbantas of Lanao del Sur, Dr. Saleh Long of Sulu and Jaafar of Maguindanao, and others who “made efforts and sacrifices which led to the establishment of this new autonomous government.”
“One of the reasons behind our people’s backwardness,” he said, “is the lack of education which is the basis of progress. The ignorance and poverty among our people led to injustices and the spread of strife and enmity among its members, destabilized the security of the region and the people,” he said.
He cited the need to “fight racial and fanatical differences, instill the seeds of tolerance and mutual respect.”
Seventy-five members were present during the roll call. The BTA is supposed to be an 80-member body that will govern the BARMM until June 30, 2022.
President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed 76 and has yet to appoint four. The MILF is recommending Mujiv Ali, eldest son of the late Jaafar, to be appointed as his replacement.
The law provides that the elected officials of the ARMM be automatically part of the BTA until June 30 this year, when their terms shall have lapsed.
The ARMM has 26 elected officials but one died in office, leaving only 25. But ARMM Governor, Mujiv Hataman, opted to resign from the BARMM to focus on Basilan where he is running for the lone congressional seat; and Assemblyman Khadafeh Mangudadatu has been appointed regular member of the BTA.
If the President had completed the appointments of 80 BTA members, the total number of BTA members would have been 103 until June 30 this year. But as of inaugural day, the BTA has 98 members – 75 appointees and 23 elected ARMM officials.
Friday’s session ended at 11:40 a.m. after Murad’s inaugural address. The afternoon event was the Bay’a or swearing by the Koran in the presence of President Rodrigo Duterte who was expected to arrive mid-afternoon to bang the gong “to signal the inauguration “ of the BARMM. He arrived at 6:21 p.m.
The inaugural session of the predominantly Moro revolutionaries-turned-parliamentarians was not without bloopers. The first blooper was the playing of the national anthem, the video showing images of flag-raising rites of ARMM and its officials, the very same ARMM that the BARMM replaced.
Before Balindong, the seasoned Speaker, took over as presiding chair, Ebrahim, who was long-time Vice Chair for Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) before he assumed the chairmanship of the MILF in 2003, looked and sounded awkward as presiding chair.
He groped for the right parliamentary wordings and declared the Speaker “appointed” even before the election could be held.
When the voting eventually happened after a long-extended-supposedly-three-minute-recess to clarify matters such as having another candidate to form the basis for the majority and minority, Ebrahim said the voting would be by viva voce but a number of MPs (Member of Parliament) raised their hands. Soonafter, Ebrahim was heard saying “stand up” after asking who were for Balindong and who were against, and later declared the vote for Balindong “unanimous” even as there were a few who did not stand up.
At one point in the session, Ali, 36, then still designated as Acting Majority Leader, declared MP Nabil Tan out of order even as the 63-year old Tan, a veteran legislator who served as the first Majority Leader of the ARMM in 1990 and was ARMM Vice Governor as well, was recognized by Ebrahim, then the presiding chair.
Before the session under Balindong adjourned, Tan stood up to ask that Ali’s declaration of him as “out of order” be expunged from the records of the Parliament. The smiling Tan then delivered a short lecture on how majority leaders should conduct themselves. “The majority leader only recommends,” he said.
Day of triumph
Balindong, who recalled he was a member of the legal panel of the then undivided Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF; it later broke up into three factions – MNLF under Nur Misuari, MILF under Salamat Hashim and MNLF Reformist Group under Dimas Pundato), described the inaugural session as “the day of triumph.”
“We are now officially the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or the BARMM… we are practically free to build our won future,” Balindong said. The crowd applauded.
He acknowledged the struggle and sacrifices of the Moro people and how “we will not be standing here right now” without their labor and dedication.”
The BTA, he said, will “propel the Bangsamoro forward to enduring peace and economic prosperity.”
“Now is the time to drop our weapons and start picking up the broken pieces of our identity,” he said. He called on the Moro people to join hands and “collectively rebuild the Bangsamoro.”
In his 17-minute inaugural address, Ebrahim urged the members of Parliament to “always be conscious of the day when we shall be asked how we fulfilled the task and discharged the responsibilities.”
He said the BARM is “founded on the sacrifices of the Bangsamoro” and must be driven “by our collective aspirations for the affirmation of our distinct historical identity, and the right to chart our political future through democratic process.”
He acknowledged the “heavy burden” on them to “give justice to the centuries old struggle and sacrifices.”
Ebrahim also reminded the audience hat the leadership of the BARMM and the BTA, is an “amanah,” a trust given to them and a responsibility that they have to account for. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)