COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 30 March) – “Your region’s future is now in your hands,” President Rodrigo Duterte told members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the body that will govern the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) until June 30, 2022, during its inauguration Friday at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex here.
“To my dear Bangsamoro sisters and brothers in the BTA, the power to chart the course of your region’s future is now in your hands. I trust that you will wield this power with utmost care, the future of succeeding generations of the Filipinos, especially the Moro of Mindanao, depends on it,” said Duterte who, before reading his prepared speech, expressed his “extreme happiness .. that we were able to realize at least a part — maybe not all, but a part of what the entire country would have wished for the Moro people of Mindanao.”
In his nine-minute speech, the President said the BARMM, which he described as the new autonomous entity “that we had envisioned to address the injustices of the past and plot the new course towards a more promising future for Mindanao and the rest of the country,” promises “a new dawn for the Moro.”
He reiterated his “solemn promise to you, a sacred one which I promised also to Allah for his blessings, that in my term and for the next three years, we will all work and truly work for the benefit of the Bangsamoro people.”
Duterte’s six-year term ends at noon on June 30, 2022, the same day the BTA steps down to give way to the first set of elected officials of the BARMM.
Where’s the budget?
The President was expected to have said something about the biggest problem of the BTA in its five-week existence – the budget – but no pronouncement was made specifically on that matter.
The new region, supposedly “more autonomous” than the two other previous attempts to install an autonomous region – the Regional Autonomous Governments under President Ferdinand Marcos and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under President Corazon Aquino – is still awaiting the release of the 1.2 billion peso transition fund and the transfer of the 32 billion peso ARMM budget for 2019 to the BARMM.
In fact, two of the BTA’s four resolutions passed during the inaugural session in the morning, authorized interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim (real name of MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim) to “request for the release of the transition fund” and “to request for the transfer of the current year’s appropriations for the ARMM to the BARMM.”
Ebrahim said “the banging of the agong” by the President as soon as he entered the SKCC at 6:21 pm. (more than three hours after his expected arrival), “marks a new beginning for the Bangsamoro.”
The BTA had its inaugural session in the morning where they passed the resolutions before Ebrahim delivered his inaugural address.
But in his welcome remarks in the evening where the President was to address the BTA, Ebrahim said nothing about the two resolutions on the budget releases as he focused on their “new kind of jihad, jihad against poverty, against want and against neglect.”
He announced that they had submitted a list of the first 30% of combatants who will be decommissioned. The CAB provides for the decommissioning of 30% of weapons and combatants after the ratification of the Bangsamoro law.
Swearing before Koran
Before the Bay’a or taking of the oath of moral governance before the Koran, Ebrahim explained that when they started the revolution to assert their right to self-determination, they took an oath before the Koran. “Today as we start our governance, we will also do the same,” he said.
Ebrahim recalled that as they were guided in their armed struggle by the tenets of Islam, they will also be guided by the teachings of Islam “in delivering the trust given to us to run the Bangsamoro government, the brand of governance that Islam advocates — that is, moral governance.” The audience applauded.
“We vow to make moral governance as the foundation of this leadership,” he said as he thanked the President for making the event “more significant and historic.”
He expressed the BTA’s birthday greetings to the President who turned 74 the day before.
Five weeks, five years
The inauguration came exactly five weeks to the day members of the BTA took their oath before President Duterte in Malacanang; one month and three days after the turnover rites from the ARMM to the BARMM; and five years and two days since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
The new entity has a deadline of 60 days to pass its transition plan which shall contain the proposed organizational plan, as well as, the schedule for implementation.
Under RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, the transition plan is to be implemented within 15 days from its approval.
The law also mandates the BTA to pass priority measures such as the Bangsamoro Administrative Code, Bangsamoro Revenue Code, Bangsamoro Electoral Code, Bangsamoro Local Government Code, and Bangsamoro Education Code as well as a Bangsamoro Civil Service and a law to recognize, protect, promote, and preserve the rights of the indigenous peoples in the BARMM.
Correct historical injustices
Duterte called upon the Bangsamoro at the start of this new chapter in the country “to take advantage of this opportunity and finally correct the historical injustices and forget the bitterness of the past so that we may embrace each other as Filipinos.”
He said the new government must be one that serves “all Muslims, Christians, Lumads, and other indigenous peoples, and every Filipino who also call Mindanao their home.”
“We entrust this responsibility to the distinguished members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority under the able leadership and through the vision of Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. Sir, sumasaludo ako sa inyo,” Duterte said.
He said he hopes the BARMM “will not just live up to its aspirations and principles embodied in the past peace agreements with different Moro fronts, but also promote good governance, transparency, accountability, and inclusive political empowerment.”
At the start of his speech, Duterte said he hoped that “in due time,” he would be “able to fix also the western part and I hope to talk to our brother Nur Misuari on the western side.
Misuari is the founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which has split into various factions, the first of which was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the late 1970s.
The government signed two peace agreements with the MNLF under Misuari – the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.
The MNLF faction under Yusoph Jikiri and Muslimin Sema was represented in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro law. Misuari’s faction did not nominate anyone to the BTC.
The MNLF under Jkiri and Sema has at least 10 representatives in the BTA – nine nominated by the government and one nominated by the MILF.
Among the 76 members appointed by the President, MindaNews counted 19 from the island provinces or what Duterte refers to as “the western part” — eight from Sulu, seven from Basilan and four from Tawi-tawi.
Peace and Justice
The BARMM comprises the core areas of the ARMM – the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan – and the additional areas of Cotabato City and 63 barangays in North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in the BARMM.
Among the chief executives of the BARMM, only Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu attended the inauguration.
Retired Cardinal Orlando Quevedo wasn’t able to attend the inauguration due to a previous commitment but he told MindaNews he sent word to Ebrahim and MILF Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal (now Minister of Eduction), that he is “with you in mind and heart.”
“My greetings and best wishes to everyone, especially to President Duterte. To him I express my deep gratitude for his BOL (Bangsamoro organic law) support. May the Bangsamoro thrive in peace and justice under God the Most Compassionate, “ Quevedo said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas /MindaNews)