DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 September) – Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez refers to the newly-constituted Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) as the “BTA of a united BARMM” (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) noting that for the first time, the Moro liberation fronts that signed peace agreements with government, are all represented in the same platform, and together, account for 55 or 69% of the 80-member body.
Of the 55 members, 41 were nominated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) while 14 were nominated by the two factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), seven by founding chair Nur Misuari and seven by the group of Muslimin Sema and the late Yusop Jikiri. President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. reappointed MILF chair Ahod Balawag “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim as interim Chief Minister.
“It has been a long time since the MNLF and the MILF have split” but under the Marcos, Jr. administration, “they are one in pushing for sustainable peace and development in the Bangsamoro,” Galvez said shortly after Marcos swore into office on August 12 the BTA members that will serve until June 30, 2025, the end of the extended transition period.
Republic Act 11054, the enabling law of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement of the government and MILF, provides that the MILF “shall lead the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, without prejudice to the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front in its membership.”
The law lists eight “functions and priorities” that the BTA should accomplish during the transition period, particularly the enactment of the priority legislations such as the Administrative Code, Revenue Code, Electoral Code, Local Government Code and Education Code. It is also tasked to pass a Civil Service Code and Indigenous Peoples Code. The Administrative, Education and Civil Service Codes have been passed by the first BTA.
Among the other tasks of the BTA is to determine the parliamentary districts for the first regular election of the Bangsamoro Parliament in May 2025 and organize the bureaucracy of the Bangsamoro Government.
When it steps down on June 30, 2025, it is expected that the transition government will leave behind a fully functioning Bangsamoro Government unique among all the regions in the country as it is autonomous and is a parliamentary system under a presidential form of government, a regional government born out of the struggles of the Bangsamoro in the battlefields and in the peace negotiating tables, for their right to self-determination.
The establishment of the BARMM, according to the law creating it, is “in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and the aspirations of Muslim Filipinos and all indigenous cultural communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to secure their identity and posterity, allowing for meaningful self-governance within the framework of the Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”
The BARMM is the first Bangsamoro autonomous government born out of a peace agreement as the previous autonomous governments – the Regional Autonomous Governments under the administration of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was a unilateral decision of Marcos exercising legislative powers under martial law even as the 1976 Tripoli Agreement with the MNLF provided for only one autonomous region, while the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was a product of Republic Act 9054 citing the 1987 Constitution, set up in 1990 or six years before the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF, and amended supposedly to enhance and expand the ARMM by incorporating provisions of the 1996 peace pact.
BTA1 and BTA2
The 80-member body has 41 members nominated by the MILF and 39 by the government, including the 14 MNLF nominees.
In the first BTA (2019 to 2022), the MNLF faction under Misuari did not participate. Only the MNLF under Sema-Jikiri supported the CAB, announcing it was in “partial fulfillment” of the government and MNLF’s 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. The Sema-Jikiri group nominated members to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro organic law and later nominated members to the first BTA or what is now being referred to by Members of Parliament (MPs) as BTA1 under the Duterte administration, to distinguish it from BTA2, the newly-constituted body under the Marcos administration.
The MILF broke away from the MNLF much earlier than the Sema-Jikiri group. After the failed implementation of the 1976 peace pact, the group led by MNLF Vice Chair Salamat Hashim broke away from the MNLF and formed the “New MNLF” that was later renamed MILF.
After the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was ousted in February 1986 President Corazon Aquino reopened negotiations with the MNLF, even flying to Sulu to meet with Misuari despite the objections of her security sector. No peace agreement, however, was signed during her administration wracked by several coup attempts. The Final Peace Agreement was reached under the Ramos administration on September 2, 1996.
A leadership crisis later ensued within the MNLF, triggering the formation of the Executive Council of 15 that took over from Misuari in April 2001, the start of the MNLF Misuari and MNLF Sema-Jikiri factions.
The MILF-led BTA is the interim government of the BARMM which comprises the provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi; the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato and 63 villages in six North Cotabato towns dubbed as special geographic area.
Misuari, who did not recognize government’s peace agreement with the MILF and who felt betrayed by the MNLF under Sema-Jikiri, snubbed the invitation of the Presidential Peace Advisers under the Benigno Aquino and Duterte administrations to nominate anyone to the BTC and the BTA.
Marcos reappointed 49 out of the 80 BTA appointees of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, under whose administration, RA 11054 or the enabling law of the CAB was passed. The CAB was signed in March 2017 under the Benigno Aquino administration, after 17 years of peace negotiations that started in 1997 under the Ramos administration. RA 11054 was passed in 2018 and ratified in 2019 under the Duterte administration, paving the way for the establishment of the BARMM, an autonomous government that replaced the ARMM where Misuari once served as Governor.
Inaugurated in March 2019, the BTA was supposed to have ended on June 30, 2022 when the first set of elected officials of the BARMM shall have taken their oath of office. But the transition period was extended to another three years, until June 30, 2025, after RA 11593 reset the May 2022 election of the 80-member Bangsamoro Parliament to May 2025.
At the oathtaking rites in Malacanang on August 12, President Marcos declared there would be no more extension of the transition period beyond June 30, 2025. He told the MPs that performance would be key in winning the 2025 BARMM elections.
Among the 39 government nominees to the BTA, Galvez told MindaNews that the formula his office used was 14-14-11 or 14 from the MNLF — seven recommended by the Sema-Jikiri group and seven by the Misuari group, including Misuari’s two children – Abdulkarim and Nurredha; 14 by the region’s provincial governors; and the remaining 11 are among the reappointed MPs, most of whom had previously served in the ARMM.
MindaNews noted that at least 14 children of Moro revolutionary leaders and MILF peace panel members are in BTA2. (see other story)
On August 18, Galvez met in Davao City with the MPs nominated by the MNLF factions. The MPs agreed to do away with faction labels and work together as MNLF, as Bangsamoro.
Galvez said the participation of the MNLF under Misuari is a product of the convergence efforts of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) “to harmonize the Bangsamoro peace agreements,” referring to the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and 1996 Final Peace Agreement between government and the MNLF, and the 2014 CAB between government and the MILF.
Misuari was elected ARMM Governor on September 9, 1996, a full week after he signed the Final Peace Agreement in Malacanang. He was supposed to serve as ARMM Governor until 1999 but continued on holdover capacity until 2001 because Congress did not immediately pass the amendatory law that would have incorporated provisions of the 1996 peace pact. The law was passed only in 2001 but Misuari complained it was a “watered down” version that rendered the ARMM even less autonomous than it was.
Misuari left Sulu for Sabah in late November 2001, a few days before the ARMM election, after allegedly waging a rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga. He was arrested upon arrival off Sabah for alleged illegal entry, was returned to the country in January 2002, detained in the bungalow intended for ousted President Joseph Estrada, later moved to St. Luke’s Hospital and much later in a government-rented two-floor white house in New Manila, near the hospital. He was freed on bail on April 25, 2008 and acquitted in December 2009 by a Makati Trial Court as the prosecution failed to produce enough evidence to prove his guilt.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which facilitated the peace talks with the MNLF that led to the signing of the 1976 and 1996 peace pacts and was observer in the MILF peace negotiations that led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in October 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in March 2014, had earlier sought to harmonize the MNLF and MILF peace tracks.
In April 2015, Iyad Ameen Madani, OIC Secretary General met separately and later jointly with leaders of the MNLF factions and the MILF in Davao City, to discuss, through the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum the OIC had earlier set up, on how best to move forward in harmonizing the tracks of the peace agreements they signed separately with the Philippine government.
Efforts were exerted by the Benigno Aquino and Duterte administrations to get Misuari to nominate members to the BTC and BTA but Misuari did not submit names.
One MNLF, One Bangsamoro
MP Hatimil Hassan, MNLF Vice Chair who was among the MNLF Executive Council of 15 that took over the leadership from Misuari in April 2001, is optimistic that with the entry of MPs from Misuari’s group, “this will hasten our work to complete our job particularly yung sa pagbuo namin sa tinatawag na priority codes” and at the same time eliminate possible threats similar to the 2013 siege. With the entry of the MNLF under Misuari, “we can prevent that because we can work together, and last night we agreed that we will work together,” he told MindaNews on August 19.
He said they agreed to “come together, we will work together and we are now discussing kung ano yung mga agenda i-present namin pagbukas ng session ng BTA.”
Hassan described this new development as “very historic … because of the fact that ang MNLF finally one and united, and at the same time we would work together for the full implementation of all the peace agreements” with the MILF and MNLF.
MP Tarhata Maglangit, who was nominated by the Misuari group said, they want a “new kind of BTA, a working BTA na hindi na masyado i-emphasize yung majority and minority. But we work…basically ang objectives is we accomplish the deliverables, the codes, and then we look at the important legislations that would answer doon sa mga need ng mga communities namin and our people.”
Maglangit also refers to the meeting as “very historic” and praises Galvez for handling the process well, particularly in his consultations.
“Ang efforts niya whether we like it or not, it takes somebody from the outside to forge unity and solidarity among us kasi kung kami kami lang … parang hindi pa siguro mag-happen,” she said.
“Talk to each other, not against each other”
Guiamel Alim of Cotabato City, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, told MindaNews he cannot as yet say if the new composition of the BTA is better.
The measure for their performance, he said, “is the use of their ‘authority’ for the well-being of the people in the BARMM.”
“If it means a unity of the fronts (MNLF-MILF), the proof should be on how they perform in the BTA and if they can sustain such unity beyond the transition,” Alim emphasized.
“What I can categorically say is that there is political accommodation. Membership in the BTA is one thing. To perform the tasks required of them is another thing. I would like to see the new composition as a test for building social cohesion. Will it happen? Can it be sustained beyond the elections in 2025?” Guiamel asked.
He said he would like to see the BTA as a “problem-solving institution, where the members talk to each other and not against each other,” especially since the challenges ahead are “gargantuan,” and normalization which includes, among others, the decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons, transformation of MILF camps into productive, civilian communities and redeployment of military forces, has “hardly taken off.”
“Poverty is still here as the shock of inflation is taking its toll on the population. Peace and security is still unstable. The codes and other relevant laws are still wanting. Expectations are high and the time is not anymore three years. A year before 2025 is already the election period. Sana ay tulong-tulong sila. At medyo madaliin ang gawain (We hope they will help each other. And hurry up in doing their tasks).”
Alim added that people outside the BARMM are watching how the BTA will resolve the problems he cited “and how it can be a template for other regions to follow.”
“So let us give them the benefit of the doubt to see whether the ‘unity’ will make them better than the old BTA or simply a case of political accommodation,” he said.
He urged civil society to be “vigilant to monitor the performance of the BTA.”
Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group in Marawi City said he is happy for those who were appointed to the BTA “but we are also sorry for those who did not make it but (are) deserving.”
Lininding expressed hope that the new BTA will fulfill its mandate “which is the enactment of codes and ensure the delivery of basic services to all communities under BARMM. Their success will be the victory of those who sacrificed and offered their lives so peace can be achieved.”
He said he is looking forward to “an inclusive and transparent governance.”
Fatmawati Salapuddin of Sulu, a Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission under the Benigno Aquino administration and a former Commissioner at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, sees as a “good sign” the coming together of the MILF and MNLF factions.
“(President Marcos) got them all together in one roof. Good sign. I’d like to think that the Moro rebellion in southern Philippines has come to an end,” she told MindaNews.
She said she considers herself fortunate “to have seen it all, known it all from within; complex twists and turns including the North Borneo issue.”
“I cannot find words for it,” she said, adding it is “quite overwhelming.”
She narrated that she was 8 years old when she saw the first military helicopter that hovered over Sulu when martial law was declared in September 1972. “Now I am 58. Been there, done that. I sometimes say I’m like a war veteran.”
Salapuddin said this is the “first time I felt relief and a sense of freedom” but acknowledges there are “many more things that need to be done to sustain but for now, I only want to breathe fresh air.”
Of the 80 members in the BTA, 16 or 20% are women. At least 10 MPs were previously involved in civil society organizations, most of them women. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)