COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 15 September) – “We walk this path together” even if the path to lasting peace is difficult, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. told the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) on Thursday.
“The path to lasting peace is always under construction. But we walk this path together and we walk it, not because it is an easy one. We walk this path together because even if it is difficult, we know that at the end of the journey is historical justice, progress, peace, stability, and the unity that our peoples and our nation have long aspired for and so rightly deserve,” he said.
He assured the BTA and the Bangsamoro people of his administration’s “full and unwavering commitment to the peace process and to BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).”
“With unity and solidarity,” he said, the BTA will be successful in facilitating the institution of the Bangsamoro government, one that is centered in promoting good governance and lasting peace for its people.
Marcos addressed the BTA at the inaugural session of the transition government, an event he described as “very, very important occasion.” The inaugural gathered all branches of the national government — the executive led by the President, the legislative led by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez, and the judicial represented by Supreme Court Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao, the first Meranaw to be appointed to the high court — on the same stage as the three leaders of Moro liberation fronts that were organized half a century ago during the administration of the President’s father, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., to fight for the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination and fight against historical injustices perpetrated by several administrations, including his father’s.
Cotabato City, the regional seat of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is the President’s first Mindanao visit after assuming the post on June 30, 2022. He arrived at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex at 12:12 p.m. and left at 1:04 p.m.
In his eight-minute speech, Marcos said they would not have been witnessing “this glorious unfolding of history without you.”
“We set our feet before this place and herald the trials that you have won through courage, certainty, and noble bravery.”
He said the diverse representation in the BTA that will run the Bangsamoro government during the extended period form 2022 to 2025, “speaks volumes of your answer towards that call for unity, of shared responsibility, and the invitation to advocate peace and development in the Bangsamoro region.”
The BTA is led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement signed by government and the MILF on March 27, 2014. MILF chair Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, is the interim Chief Minister.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Muslimin Sema and the late Yusop Jikiri participated in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) fro that drafted the Organic Law for the BARMM from 2017 to 2018 and the BTA under the Duterte administration, from 2019 to 2022.
This is the first time that the MNLF under Nur Misuari nominated members to the BTA. Although he was invited by the Aquino and Duterte administrations to nominate members to the BTC and BTA, Misuari snubbed the invitation. This year, there are seven nominees each from the Sema and Misuari groups.
The 83-year old Misuari warmly welcomed Ebrahim when the latter visited him in his residence in Davao City on September 11. “This is a great day, a great day for the Bangsamoro homeland,” he said.
“This is a symbol of unity,” Ebrahim described their meeting, to which Misuari added, “and solidarity.”
Before Marcos arrived, Sema approached Misuari and the two leaders embraced each other, Misuari telling Sema “I will also pay you my respects,” in response to Sema’s “I will pay you a visi
Murad, Misuari and Sema were photographed together, their hands clasped.
Marcos lauded the accomplishments mentioned by Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim in his speech at the opening of the hour-long program..
Ebrahim said the first BTA (2019 to 2022) enacted a total of 31 laws, including the three priority codes – Administrative, Education and Civil Service. They have yet to pass the Election Code, Local Government Code, Revenue Code and Indigenous People’s Code.
He cited a Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) report that BARMM recorded the most significant reduction in terms of poverty incidence among families – from 55.9 % in 2018 (estimated 355,170 families) to 29.8 % in 2021 (207,160 families), the BARMM recording the highest and the only double-digit reduction in the country.
He reported that the BARMM’s economy “increased by 7.5 percent, which makes us the second fastest growing region in the country;” that the region registered the highest growth in terms of value of production in agriculture and fisheries at 7.2 % in 2021; and that the BARMM, citing PSA, was the largest contributor in fisheries production nationwide during the second quarter of 2022, accounting for 28.6% or 346.42 metric tons out of the total 1,213.31 metric tons.
Ebrahim also said BARMM is now an investment destination, recording at least 8.1 billion worth of investments in the past three years, translating to 6,077 employment opportunities. He claimed this is more than what the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the regional government preceding the BARMM, “recorded for around 30 years of its existence.”
“Rest assured Mr. President that we will complete all the remaining transition priorities and finish setting up a government not only ready for a peaceful and orderly elections in 2025 but also a government capable of continuing the transformation of the BARMM into a progressive and responsive region.”
Noting these achievements, Marcos said: “I always think this is just the beginning.”
“As we go on and we formalize the structure and institutionalize the functions of the Bangsamoro government, we will see that those sufficiencies will come in and what we had celebrated today and at the very beginning of the existence of the BARMM … we will now look upon as only a glimpse of what will happen in the future,” he added.
Marcos said he looks forward to the fulfillment of “your vision to realize a united, enlightened, self-governing, peaceful, just, morally upright, and progressive Bangsamoro.”
He said his administration will push for socioeconomic development and interventions to promote peace and development in areas affected by decades of conflict.
He cited the PAMANA (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan) socioeconomic program which was allocated “more than 19 billion pesos” from 2017 to 2022, under the Duterte administration. “We will ensure the completion despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he vowed.
Marcos also noted that the Department of Budget and Management has allocated 74.4 billion pesos for the BARMM for 2023.
“Given these new opportunities to deliver our commitments to the people of BARMM, I urge you to pass all the crucial legislations on fiscal policy, particularly taxation, and to facilitate the conduct of the elections in the BARMM in 2025,” Marcos said, as he encouraged the body to pass measures that will “secure the welfare of the Moro people” particularly in agri-fishery, healthcare, transportation, communication, digital infrastructure, and e-governance.
Marcos also thanked partners from the diplomatic corps and international agencies “who have come to Bangsamoro to encourage this peace process and who have invested so much of their time, their energy, and their funding to Bangsamoro for the development of the many different aspects that have fallen behind in the development brought by the national government.” Their assistance, he said, has “certainly paved the way to this day.”
“Thank you for your assistance. We could not have done it without you,” he said.
Onstage, Marcos sat between Ebrahim and Misuari. Sema, was on the front row along with Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez and Cotabato Archbishop Emeritus Orlando Quevedo. Also with Marcos onstage were Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo and Local Governments Secretary Benhur Abalos.
Road, bridges, flood control
Ebrahim also reported that the regional government has constructed, paved, improved, and rehabilitated at least 457.75 kilometers of local road, 34 bridges, 26 flood control projects, 14 port construction and rehabilitation projects, and 170 water system projects, turned over 465 housing units for the poorest of the poor and is constructing at least 3,200 more housing units.
Ebrahim said the regional government has assisted local government units and agencies through the construction of 220 barangay halls, 26 public markets, nine municipal police stations, 21 municipal hall buildings, and 14 desalination machines, along with other government facilities such as sanitary landfill and public terminal.
He said the region has resumed face-to-face classes in all levels with region, the students welcomed with 482 new school buildings, 95,188 armchairs, various textbooks, learning materials, school bags and other school supplies. It has also awarded 27,300 scholarships from tech-voc to college scholarships, including Medicine, Science and Technology.
“These are just some of our strategies to ensure that no Bangsamoro child is left behind and in the process, we produce at least one professional per family,” he said.
Of the 80 members of the BTA, 55 were nominated or recommended by the Moro Liberation fronts: 41 from the MILF, seven each from the MNLF under Sema nad Misuari. Among the 80 are 15 children of Moro revolutionary leaders including Misuari’s children – Abdulkarim and Nurredha – and Sema’s son Omar, and children of field commanders and members of peace panels. Sixteen are women, two are non-Moro Indigenous Peoples and at least two are from settler communities.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)