Duterte’s last SONA: mum on Marawi compensation and Bangsamoro transition extension

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 July) –  President Rodrigo Duterte said nothing about the Marawi compensation and Bangsamoro transition extension bills during his sixth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, exactly three years to the day he signed  into law the Bangsamoro Organic Law, disappointing thousands who had earlier appealed to him to certify as urgent the passage of these bills.

Out of the 286-paragraph address delivered for nearly three hours, only three were on the Bangsamoro and Marawi but not one of the three paragraphs responded to the appeals to certify these bills as urgent.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his 6th State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City on July 26, 2021. PRESIDENTIAL PHOTOS

It is not clear if the SONA as written, gave more paragraphs to these issues because Duterte would read the text scrolling on the teleprompter and suddenly go off-script. After reading three paragraphs on the Bangsamoro and Marawi, he suddenly shifted back to his favorite topic in his five-year Presidency: drugs.

On the Bangsamoro, Duterte said: “I have said many times before: The bloodshed caused by the separatist movement in Mindanao is all about correcting the historical injustices suffered by the Moro people since the period of colonization. With the help of Congress, we were able to pass the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), finally fulfilling a promise that was decades in the making.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte sounds the gong to signal the inauguration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in Cotabato City on March 29, 2019, marking what he said was a “new dawn” for the Moro.’ Joining the President is BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ibrahim (MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim). ROBINSON NIÑAL JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

On July 26, 2018, exactly three years before his last SONA, Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, the enabling act of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that was signed under the Aquino administration in March 2014.

The law was ratified in a plebiscite in January 2019, paving the way for the creation of the BARMM.  In February that same year, Duterte named the 80 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the body tasked to govern the BARMM until the first set of officials elected in May 2022 are sworn in on June 30, 2022.  On March 29, 2019, the President graced the inauguration of the BARMM.

Supporters for the extension of the Bangsamoro transition until 2025 stage a rally on 10 March 2021 outside the Senate in Pasay City where the Committee on Local Government was holding its first hearing on Senate Bills 2019 and 2025, which propose the rescheduling of the first election of the 80 members of the Bangsamoro Parliament from May 2022 to May 2025. Photo courtesy of Mindanao Peoples Caucus

Pending in Congress are bills seeking the extension of  the transition period until June 30, 2025 by resetting the date of the first BARMM election to May 2025 instead of May 2022.

Duterte had agreed to this call for extension in a meeting in Davao City with the Bangsamoro leaders led by Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Balawag Ebrahim and key Cabinet secretaries.

On November 26, 2020, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, Jr.  told the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity hearing on the status of implementation of the 2014 CAB, that Duterte wants Congress to extend the Bangsamoro transition period “to enable the (BTA) to fulfill its mandate in a most reasonable time.”

“The President believes that three years is too short and he agrees for the possible extension of the BTA up to five to six years” (2024 to 2025)  Galvez said, adding the COVID-19 pandemic also affected the work of the BTA.

The implementation of the peace agreement follows two tracks — political and normalization – and involves both the MILF-led BTA and the national government.

On June 28, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced in a Malacañang press briefing that the President had taken a “neutral” stance on the proposed extension of the transition period following two successive meetings with Bangsamoro leaders, majority of whom were supporting extension. Asked if “neutral” means the President will not certify the bill as urgent, Roque’s reply to MindaNews was “yes.”

The election of 80 members of  the Bangsamoro Parliament is to be governed by the Bangsamoro Electoral Code which will involve redistricting and threshing out the manner of electing the 40 members representing political parties, 32 from single member districts and eight reserved and sectoral seats.

The Bangsamoro Electoral Code has not been passed. Nationwide, the filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 9, 2022 synchronized polls is on October 1 to 8.

“Point of impossibility”

On May 31, Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments and principal author of SB 2214, made a manifestation before the plenary that “it would appear that we have reached a stage where it is really impossible for us right now to arrive at a conclusion wherein legislation would result in an election.”

He cited three pathways that lead to no election of the Bangsamoro Parliament in May 2022. He said if Congress does not act on the bills, “definitely, there is not going to be an election;” if Congress disapproves the proposed measure, “the endgame is no elections” in May 2022; and if they approve the measure, “the result will be no elections but certainty as to when the next elections would be,” he said, referring to May 2025.

Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments and principal author of SB 2214.

He said he premised his manifestation on, among others, the Bangsamoro law that provides that the first regular elections should be conducted pursuant to the Bangsamoro Electoral Code “which we still don’t have so how can we have an election when there are no rules to apply;” that parliamentary districts “have yet to be apportioned,” and therefore “there is no office to aspire for” and no Certificate of Candidacy “that would be congruent to a vacant parliamentary district” as the Bangsamoro Electoral Code has yet to identify the parliamentary districts.

Duterte, the country’s 16th President and first Mindanawon to lead the nation,  and the first to claim to have Meranaw roots,  vowed in his inaugural speech on June 30, 2016, that his administration is “committed to implement all signed peace agreements in step with constitutional and legal reforms.”

Started under the Ramos administration in 1997, the peace process with the MILF was passed on to the Estrada administration but collapsed and the panels disbanded after the “all-out war” Estrada waged against the MILF in 2000.  Peace negotiations were revived under the Arroyo administration (2001 to 2010) who promised an “all-out peace” but waged yet another war in the midst of the peace talks in 2003.  In 2008, the Arroyo administration’s peace panel initialed the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) and was supposed to formally sign it in Kuala Lumpur on August 5, 2008 but the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order that effectively aborted the signing and sparked yet another wave of armed confrontations.

The Aquino administration (2010 to 2016) made significant strides with the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October 2012 and finally the CAB on March 27, 2014, after 17 years of negotiations.

President Aquino envisioned the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law within the last half of his six-year term but the Mamasapano Tragedy of January 2015 struck and doomed its passage.

The peace agreement provides that at the end of the transition period, the government and MILF peace negotiating panels, together with the Malaysian Facilitator and the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), “shall convene a meeting to review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all agreements and the progress of the transition” and an Exit Document officially terminating the peace negotiation may be crafted and signed by both parties “if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.” 

Marawi

Marawi residents particularly those in Ground Zero, waited for Duterte to talk about their plight. Four years after he declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence,”  residents in the 250-hectare, 24-village ‘Ground Zero,’ the former main battle area between government forces and the Islamic State-linked Maute Group and its allies, have yet to rebuild their homes and business establishments.

Early this month, a new coalition of 15 civil society organizations and alliances in Marawi, the CSO Marawi Compensation Advocates, called on both houses of Congress to expedite the passage of the Marawi compensation bill and urged the President to state unequivocally his support for compensation during his SONA.

A portion of Marawi City’s Ground Zero with Lake Lanao in the background. MindaNews file photo. May 2018 by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Duterte said nothing about compensation during his SONA. He merely confirmed what Meranaws have long known: that rehabilitation, four years later, is “still not completed” and he urged Task Force Bangon Marawi, to “race against time” and to “finish the necessary work to rehabilitate the war-torn city and bring back its (displaced) families back home.

“Our victory in Marawi is also a testament to how the Filipino’s patriotism is far stronger than any extremist group. As I have said before, many times, there is no room for lawlessness in this country,” Duterte said.

“Rebuilding a better Marawi remains today, still not completed,” he said.

Addressing Task Force Bangon Marawi, Duterte declared: “We need to race against time. And you have to finish the necessary work to rehabilitate the war-torn city and bring back its [displaced] families back home.”

Those watching the SONA, especially the Meranaws, hoped the President would mention the compensation bill but Duterte suddenly went off script and talked again about drugs.

Displaced Marawi residents had been pushing for the passage of a compensation law so they could return to their villages and rebuild their homes and their lives.

Pending in Congress are bills on compensation. In the House, a substitute bill consolidating the three bills had been filed in August 2020 but has remained pending at the Committee on Mindanao Affairs. In the Senate, no hearing has been set to deliberate on the bill.

Without a law on compensation, there can be no appropriation.  Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado is expected to submit to Congress in August the National Expenditure Program which will serve as the basis for the General Appropriations Act of 2022.

“Duterte failed us big time”

Drieza Lininding, chair of  the Marawi City-based Moro Consensus group told MindaNews that Duterte “used to be our champion in advancing the Moro Cause and in addressing historical injustices committed against us, but in his last SONA, he is just like his predecessors who failed us. Duterte failed us big time! As if the fate of the more than 100,000 residents displaced by Marawi Siege is not that important and urgent.”

Internally displaced persons from Marawi City who sought refuge in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur stage a picket along the highway in Saguiaran on Friday (21 February 2020) to ask the Senate’s Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation to “let us go home” and to pass the Marawi Compensation bill.  The Committee is visiting Marawi’s Ground Zero and shelter sites before convening a public hearing at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology Friday afternoon. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

He said being displaced from their homes and shops for more than four years are “the price that we are still paying for his military adventurism. Using Marawi is not a Joke! We are praying that after he (Duterte) is gone we will be vindicated by investigating what happened in Marawi (siege) and in the rehabilitation program. We demand accountability!”

Zia Alonto Adiong, Bangsamoro Member of Parliament, said he is glad the President instructed the Task Force Bangon Marawi to finish the rehabilitation at the soonest possible time to facilitate the return of the residents.

“I would have wanted to hear him dwell more on how to ensure this instruction by asking Congress to secure and prioritize an allocation of a dedicated and special funding for the said rehabilitation efforts so that we wouldn’t be facing any delay is in the future. This is on top of our call for the enactment of the Marawi Compensation Bill,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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