DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 March) – The two houses of Congress have only 17 session days from March 9 until its adjournment sine die on June 3 to act on seven bills proposing to extend the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) from its supposed end on June 30, 2022 to June 30, 2025.
Seven bills have been filed in Congress – five in the House and two in the Senate – seeking to extend the transition period for another three years by resetting the date of the first election of the 80-member Bangsamoro Parliament to May 12, 2025 instead of May 9, 2022.
The House has held two joint committee hearings while the Senate initially set the date of its first hearing on February 24, reset it to March 3 and reset it again to March 10.
The Senate Committee hearings were postponed twice but Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri met Moro leaders twice in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Davao on February 20 and 27. Another meeting is scheduled on Tuesday, March 9 in Metro Manila, a meeting that is expected to decide the fate of the transition bills in Congress.
Between March 9 until Congress takes a break on March 27 are eight session days. Congress will resume sessions on May 17 and will have nine session days until it adjourns sine die on June 3.
The 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the body tasked to govern the Bangsamoro region during the three year transition period from 2019 to 2022, passed Resolution 93 on November 17 last year, urging the House of Representatives and the Senate to extend the transition period to June 30, 2025 to give the BTA “sufficient time to continue in performing its powers and functions and fulfill its mandate.”
On November 23, President Rodrigo Duterte and six of his Cabinet members met with the BARMM’s interim Chief Minister, Ahod Balawag Ebrahim and his delegation in Davao City, to discuss support for the proposed extension.
On November 26, at the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity hearing on the status of the implementation of the Bangsamoro law, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez said President Duterte believes a three-year transition is “too short” and is asking Congress to extend the transition period until 2024 or 2025, to enable the BTA to “fulfill its mandate in a most reasonable time.”
RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM lists down the deliverables not only of the Bangsamoro transition government but also of the national government, both in the political and normalization tracks.
Between December 1 and 17, five representatives filed bills to fix the first regular election in the Bangsamoro to May 2025 instead of May 2022: Antique Rep. Loren Legarda filed House Bill 8116; Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu, HB 8117; Leyte Rep. and Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, HB 8161; Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, HB 8277and Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, whose HB 8224 seeks to synchronize the first Bangsamoro election with the other elections in May 2028.
In the Senate, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III filed Senate Bill 2019 on January 25 while Senator Richard Gordon filed SB 2025 on January 27, both seeking to reset the date of the first Bangsamoro election to 2025.
CDO and Davao City meetings
The February 20 Cagayan de Oro meeting at the Xavier Estates Sports and Country Club was, according to an attendee, on the request of governors of the five-province, three-city BARMM but only Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, who is opposing extension and whose province voted against inclusion in the BARMM in 2019, and Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong, Jr., who is supporting extension, were present. Also present was Basilan Rep. and Deputy Majority Leader Mujiv Hataman who filed a resolution on January 26 seeking an inquiry, in aid of legislation “on the Bangsamoro transition and its listed accomplishments, ongoing programs, as well as existing challenges,” among others.
Hataman was governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from December 2011 to February 26, 2019.
In the Davao City meeting, Zubiri and Cabinet secretaries – Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado – met with BARMM Governors as well as the BARMM leadership under interim Chief Minister Ebrahim, and Hataman. The governors present were Tan, Maguindanao Governor Bai Mariam Mangudadatu and Governor Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato, whose 63 villages are now part of the BARMM.
The Provincial Board of Maguindanao passed a resolution as early as October 2019 to push for an extension of the transition period until 2025. Also present in the Cagayan de Oro and Davao meetings were Mangudadatu’s husband, Suharto, governor of neighboring Sultan Kudarat province which is not part of the BARMM.
In both Cagayan and Davao meetings, photographs were posted on social media but details about what transpired during the meetings were not made public.
Hataman posted a photograph of the attendees in Davao City, flashing the peace sign which he captioned with “Bangsamoro higit sa sarili” (Bangsamoro more than self or Bangsamoro first).
Asked what their consensus was during the February 27 meeting, Hataman told MindaNews, “meeting pa ulit, May mga konting ayusin pa” (We will meet again. Some things need to be threshed out).
Hataman said an agreement could be reached soon.
That “agreement” is expected to be reached by March 9 during the “Political Leaders Meeting” convened by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in Metro Manila. Those who attended the Davao meeting had agreed that the follow-up meeting be held “prior to the deliberation of the Senate Committee on Local Government” on SB 2019 and 2025. The Senate Committee will hold its first hearing on March 10.
As of March 9, only Sulu out of the five-province, three-city region, has no resolution from either the Provincial Board (Sangguniang Panlalawigan) or the League of Municipalities (LMP) Sulu chapter, supporting the extension.
The Provincial Boards of Maguindanao, Tawi-tawi and Basilan and the LMP chapters in Lanao del Sur and Tawi-tawi have passed resolutions in support of extension.
Insider Mediators, a network of Bangsamoro stakeholders on March 5 called on Congress to “fast track the amendment of Republic Act No. 11054 that would extend the transition period until 2025” while an online petition urging President Duterte to certify as urgent the transition bills has generated nearly a million signatories – 969,487 as of 10 a.m on March 9.
Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, issued a statement of support in January, as did the Christians for Peace Movement led by the Christian church leaders in Cotabato City.
At present, the 80 members of the BTA comprising 41 nominated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 39 nominated by the national government, are all appointed by President Duterte.
The BTA is supposed to end on June 30, 2022, when the first elected officials of the regional government shall have taken their oath of office, as mandated by RA 11054, the enabling act of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement signed by the Philippine government and the MILF on March 27, 2014, after 17 years of negotiations.
The BARMM is the third autonomous region set-up in the predominantly Moro areas in the past four decades but it is the first, as agreed upon by the two parties, to adopt a parliamentary system within a highly-centralized Presidential system of government.
A Bangsamoro Electoral Code is supposed to govern the elections in the region. The Code has not been passed.
The Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), an independent body set up by the Philippine government and the MILF to monitor the implementation of the CAB told a virtual press conference on December 14 that the peace process is “fundamentally on track” with the establishment of the BARMM as a “very big achievement” but noted that some elements “will require more time to complete.”
Speaking from Brussels, TPMT chair Heino Marius, said it is beyond the mandate of the TPMT to recommend an extension of the three-year transition period as that matter has to be decided upon by both parties, but asked if “more time” means “beyond June 30, 2022,” he replied “yes.”
He said the remaining challenges mentioned in their report “tend to show that the time allocated to the transition period is very tight and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has considerably complicated the picture” and as a consequence, “it has become clear that many elements which form part of the peace process,” particularly the normalization track, “will in all likelihood require time beyond May 2022.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)