BARMM’s Chief Minister:  bigger challenge is how to sustain gains of the peace process

GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews / 23 January)  – The bigger challenge in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is how to sustain the momentum of the peace process and let its gains be felt by every Bangsamoro people during the extended transition period until June 30, 2025,  interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim said.

Addressing the region’s third founding anniversary on Friday, January 21, in Cotabato City, Ebrahim, still popularly known by his nom de guerre in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as Al Haj Murad Ebrahim,  highlighted the major achievements of the different BARMM agencies, saying the “spirit of that momentous event three years ago still lives on today.”

Ebrahim, who continues to chair the MILF which is also transitioning from an armed group to a social movement,  stressed the need to continue uplifting the plight of the Bangsamoro people, especially during the extended transition period, “in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the Bangsamoro struggle.”

Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. MindaNews file photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“Let us not take things for granted. Remember that every peso we spend, and the resources that we use are from the blood, sweat, and tears of the mujahideen and the people who went through so much pain and suffering for the sake of the struggle. We must, by all means, give justice to these sacrifices,” he said. 

Ebrahim noted that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the BARMM’s interim governing body, is fortunate to have three more years to continue “the very important and crucial transition period.”

Last October 28, President Rodrigo Duterte enacted Republic Act 11593, which reset the first election in the BARMM to May 2025, effectively extending the Bangsamoro transition period from June 30, 2022 to June 30, 2025, when the first set of elected officials shall have taken their oaths of office. 

“Like all of us here in the Bangsamoro, they too want the BARMM to succeed and continue its momentum to sustainable peace and development. Some might think that the additional time rightly afforded to the transition period would mean that we can be complacent,” Ebrahim said in his speech at the celebration last Firday.

“(O)n the contrary, I would say that the proper mindset is that we need to be even more steadfast in our work. It is incumbent upon us to make the most out of this opportunity, not for ourselves, but for our beloved Bangsamoro…Bangsamoro as a region, as a government, and as a people,” he added.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, Jr. lauded the Bangsamoro government for “the outstanding and inspiring work” in the past three years.

He assured that the Duterte administration, whose term will end on June 30, 2022,  will remain steadfast in its commitment to help the BARMM government realize its vision of unleashing the full economic potential of the region, as it improves the socio-economic well-being of its people.

“The Philippine government will continue to support the Bangsamoro government especially during this extended transition period. President Duterte believes in the vast potential of the BARMM to become a showcase of genuine peace and sustainable development not only in Mindanao but throughout the country,” Galvez said in a statement.

Three years ago

The BARMM reckons its foundation day to January 21, 2019, the day residents in the areas that would comprise BARMM, cast their votes to ratify or reject Republic Act 11054, the Organic Law for the BARMM. 

Majority of the voters in the then Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  voted yes to inclusion in the BARMM,  along with Cotabato City. 

The Commission on Election proclaimed the ratification of RA 11054 on January 25, 2019. 

Another plebiscite was held on February 6, 2019, to determine if residents in the six towns in Lanao del Norte and 67 villages in six North Cotabato towns which voted for inclusion in the ARMM in 2001 would vote for inclusion the BARMM. Voters in the Lanao del Norte towns rejected inclusion while 63 of 67 villages in North Cotabato voted for inclusion and are now referred to as the Special Geographic Area of the Bangsamoro. 

The BARMM comprises the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao and the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato, and 63 villages in North Cotabato.  

Sulu voted “no” but  still became part of the BARMM because the law provides that the ARMM votes as “one geographical area.” Sulu questioned the provision, among others, in its petition before the Supreme Court.

The ARMM was deemed abolished upon the ratification of RA 11054. 

The creation of the Bangsamoro region was the key feature of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which the government and the MILF signed in March 2014 after 17 years of negotiations.

Ebrahim earlier pushed for the extension of the transition period, noting the need for more time to fully implement the provisions of the CAB, including the normalization process. The delays triggered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic were also among the reasons cited in asking for an extension. 

Under the Annex on Normalization, MILF combatants will be decommissioned along with their weapons as major milestones of the CAB are achieved. Recognized MILF camps will also be transformed into productive economic zones.

The first phase of the decommissioning of 40,000 combatants and thousands of weapons under the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces was held in June 2015 under the Aquino administration with 145 combatants and 75 weapons decommissioned.  The second phase was under the Duterte administration, with a total of 12,000 combatants and 2,100 weapons decommissioned between September 2019 and mid-2020. 

The third phase started in November 2021. This phase involves decommissioning 14,000 combatants and 2,500 weapons.  (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)