CSOs reiterate appeal to Duterte: certify as urgent bills extending Bangsamoro transition period

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 09 July) — About two dozen civil society organizations have reiterated their appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as urgent the bills seeking to extend until 2025 the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The Civil Society Organizations – Movement for Moral Governance (CSO-MMG), urged Duterte to heed the call of at least one million individuals to extend the transition period which is supposed to end on June 30, 2022 to June 30, 2025.

The youth line up the streets of Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao Wednesday (23 June 2021) to welcome the caravan pushing for the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) provide that during the transition period, the BARMM will be governed by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), an 80-member body composed of 41 members nominated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 39 nominated by the government.

“Sir President, we know that the call for extension of the Bangsamoro transition is close to your heart as this will pave the way in sustaining the gains of the peace processes as a legacy of your administration,” Wahab Guialal, CSO-MMG chair, said in a letter to Duterte, a copy of which was obtained by MindaNews on Thursday, 08 July.

“We are one with you in addressing the historical injustices and establishing solid foundations for peace and development through a strong and morally governed BARMM government,” he added.

On Wednesday, the CSO-MMG conducted a virtual press conference to beg the President anew to certify the extension bills as a priority legislative measure of the Duterte administration.

A manifesto read during the conference said the call for the extension of the transition period is “gaining enormous support from various sectors, including Bangsamoro grassroot communities, local government units, civil society organizations, religious groups, academic communities, and peace-loving individuals within and outside of the BARMM.”

“We believe that this massive support from different peoples and sectors in our society manifests our common desire for peace and development in the Bangsamoro homeland,” the manifesto stressed.

Among those that signed the manifesto were the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, United Youth for Peace and Development, Union of Muslim Youth Organization, Bangsamoro Communication Network and the Bangsamoro Professionals Association in the Philippines, Inc.

Five bills have been filed at the House of Representatives seeking the postponement of the 2022 BARMM elections, which will pave the way for the extension of the transition period to 2025.

Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, author of House Bill 8117 that seeks to postpone the BARMM elections in 2022, said he sought and was granted permission by the Speaker of the House  of Representatives to allow the joint committees on Suffrage, Muslim Mindanao Affairs and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity which he chairs, to conduct a committee meeting on Monday, 12 July even as Congress had adjourned sine die on June 3.

Duterte had earlier declared he was in favor of the extension but recently declared a “neutral” stance, leaving it to Congress to decide on the issue.

Duterte on June 16 asked the Bangsamoro leaders – BARMM officials, governors and mayor sand congressional district representatives — to convene the Bangsamoro Council of Leaders and return to him the following week to inform him what happened during their meeting. The Council met on June 23 and according to Local Governments Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, reached a consensus for the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro region, a development that was endorsed to Duterte.

During Wednesday’s online presser, Mangudadatu said extending the transition period in the BARMM will allow the government and the MILF to implement the provisions of the CAB and those provided by Republic Act 11054 or the Organic law for the BARMM.

Mangudadatu said the COVID-19 pandemic affected governance in the BARMM and pushed back implementation of priority measures,  hence the need to extend the transition period.

The law provides for the implementation of the peace agreement’s political and normalization tracks.  The political track involves the creation of the BARMM, laying down its foundations and passing priority codes while normalization involves, among others, decommissioning of weapons and combatants. and the transformation of the camps into productive economic zones.

So far, the third phase of decommissioning has yet to start, which involves 14,000 MILF fighters and 2,450 weapons. The list was submitted to the Turkish-led Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in December.

Phase 3 involves 35 percent of the 40,000-strong MILF, which waged a decades-old war with the government in an initial bid for Moro self-rule in Mindanao that eventually ended in negotiated autonomy.

Phase 1 of the decommissioning process involving 145 MILF fighters and 75 high-powered weapons began in 2015 in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao under the administration of the late President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

The second phase kicked off in September 2019 with Duterte leading the ceremony held also in Sultan Kudarat town. It involved 12,000 MILF members and at least 2,100 assorted weapons in a process that was completed in March 2020, according to IDB. The last phase involves the decommissioning of the remaining weapons and combatants  before an Exit Agreement could be signed.

Undersecretary David Diciano, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), said the government and the MILF peace panels are finding ways to jumpstart key normalization programs in the Bangsamoro region, amid the delays and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both parties were eyeing to start Phase 3 in August, said Diciano, also chair of the Government of the Philippines Peace Implementing Panel on the Bangsamoro peace process.  (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)