DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 September) – Three elections to the 80-member Bangsamoro Parliament shall have passed by September 15, 2032, the 10th anniversary of the inaugural session of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) under the Marcos-the-son administration: the first election in 2025, the second in 2028 and the third in 2031.
By 2032, the next Philippine President after Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (2022 to 2028) would have been serving his/her fourth year of a six-year term (2028 to 2034).
When Marcos steps down as President on June 30, 2028, will his administration have signed the exit agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)?
The transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was supposed to have ended on June 30, 2022 but was extended until June 30, 2025. Thursday’s event was the inaugural session of the Parliament of the new BTA (or BTA2).
Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed under the Aquino administration 10 years ago (October 2012), at the end of the transition period, the government and MILF peace panels, the Malaysian facilitator and the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) that the two parties created, are supposed to meet to review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all agreements and the progress of the transition. 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.”
The government and MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, after 17 years of peace negotiations.
Will the Marcos administration and the MILF sign an exit document by 2025? By then, will the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – under founding chair Nur Misuari and under Muslimin Sema – finally say the 1976 and 1996 peace agreements government signed with them have been completely implemented?
Three years from now, 10 years from now, what will the BARMM be like? Who will be its leaders? People-centered? Visionaries? Traditional politicians?
At the start of the peace negotiations with the government in 1997, the MILF declared that “the status quo is unacceptable” as they asserted their right to self-determination and sought redress for the many historical injustices committed by the state against them.
The Organic Law for the BARMM, the enabling law of the CAB, states as its purpose that it will “establish a political entity, provide for its basic structure of government 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.”
In the first BARMM election in 2025 and in succeeding elections, voters in the BARMM will cast their votes for the 80-member Bangsamoro Parliament: 40 representatives of political parties, 32 representatives of single member parliamentary districts and eight for reserved seats and sectoral representatives, including two reserved seats for non-Moro Indigenous Peoples, two for Settler Communities and one each for women, youth, traditional leaders and the Ulama.
By 2025, if the appointed MPs run for any of the 80 elective seats of Parliament, will they have a chance to win? Who among them will be Ministers of key offices in the BARMM?
Who among the 80, if they do file their certificates of candidacy in October 2024 for the May 2025 polls, will return to the Bangsamoro Parliament as elected MPs representing political parties, districts and sectors?
Or will history repeat itself in 20 years by 2025? Back in 2005, traditional politicians wrested control of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the predecessor of BARMM, after a succession of MNLF governors from 1996 to 2005. Zaldy Uy Ampatuan was elected Governor in 2005 and reelected in 2008 but his three-year term was cut short when he was arrested in early December 2009 in connection with the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
There may be no answers to these questions as yet but for now, here are glimpses of history and the memories behind the photographs on 15 September 2022.
- Leaders of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the national government in their 50s and 60s shared the same stage with Moro revolutionary leaders in their 70s and 80s.
- Executive led by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., accompanied onstage by Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo and Local Governments Secretary Benhur Abalos, and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez who sat on the front row; legislative represented by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez. Zubiri championed what is now Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM in 2018 and RA 11593 extending the Bangsamoro transition period until June 30, 2025; and the judiciary represented by Supreme Court Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao, the second Moro but first Meranaw to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
- Seated between Marcos, Jr. were MILF chair Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, 74, known more popularly by his nom de guerre, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, whom he reappointed as interim Chief Minister of the BARMM, and Nur Misuari, 83, MNLF founding chair who was elected and served as Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from 1996 to 2001.
- Muslimin Sema, 74, chair of an MNLF faction who would have completed the triumvirate of MILF and MNLF leaders onstage, was on the front row with Presidential Peace Adviser Galvez. Sema served as mayor of Cotabato City from 1998 to 2010.
- National officials from all three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – shared the same stage with leaders of the Moro liberation fronts – the MILF and MNLF.
- It was the first time the Misuari group nominated members to the BTA, among them two of his children – Abdulkarim and Nurredha. The MNLF under Sema participated in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Organic Law for the BARMM, and participated as well in BTA 1 (2019 to 2022)
- BTA2 is historic in that it houses under one roof the reconciled revolutionary groups – the MNLF and MILF and within the MNLF, the factions under Misuari and Sema. The MILF broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s, while Sema’s group broke away from the Misuari-led MNLF in 2001.
- BTA2 also paves the way for the harmonization of all peace agreements with the Moro liberation fronts: the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between government and the MNLF and the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between government and the MILF.
- The inaugural session had 79 attendees. One could not make it as the RT-PCR test result yielded positive for COVID-19.
- Member of Parliament Pangalian Balindong was nominated and unanimously voted as Speaker. He had served as Speaker since 2019 under BTA1.
- Marcos arrived at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in the Bangsamoro Government Center (the BCG of Mindanao) at 12:12 noon and left at 1:04 p.m. His speech took all of eight minutes.
- After Marcos and party left, the stage became the venue for souvenir photos and selfies of the MPs and supporters of the Bangsamoro peace process
- MP Omar Yasser Sema guided his father onstage for a reunion photo with Murad and Misuari. The last time Misuari, Muslimin Sema and Ebrahim were together onstage was at the anniversary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process on September 30, 2019 but they all looked awkward, like they were forced by circumstances to be cordial with each other. The September 15, 2022 reunion exuded warmth and spontaneity, the leaders embracing and clasping each other’s hands
- Before Marcos arrived, Sema and Misuari had embraced each other, the first in a long, long time since they were estranged in 2001 when Sema’s group formed the MNLF Executive Council. In the 1993 to 1996 peace negotiations with government, Sema, then MNLF Secretary-General, was always beside Misuari. Sema also became Misuari’s first Executive Secretary when the latter was elected Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1996. He ran for mayor and won in 1998.
- “I will also pay you my respects,” MindaNews overheard Misuari telling Sema as he embraced him. It was in response to Sema’s “I will pay you a visit.” Misuari’s daughter NurAinee had told MindaNews on September 11 that Sema was coming to visit her father soon. NurAinee said this after Murad visited Misuari in Davao City and was warmly welcomed by the MNLF founding chair and his family that day.
- Father and son Muslimin and Omar Sema had a souvenir photo with Misuari; Omar had a photograph with Misuari and earlier also had a souvenir photo with Ebrahim.
- Abdulkarim Misuari and Omar Sema are among seven Deputy Speakers. The five others are Nabil Tan, Hatimil Hassan, Benjamin Loong, Paisalin Pangandaman Tago and Lanang Ali, Jr.
- The Floor Leader is a woman: lawyer Sha Elijah Biruar Dumama-Alba.
- Women members in the BTA went for an all-women photo, after which a group of male BTA members jokingly said they want a “men in the BTA” photo.
- North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Taliño-Mendoza and Cotabato City Mayor Mohammad Ali “Bruce” Matabalao attended the event but conspicuously absent were the other chief executives of the BARMM provinces and cities.
- Mindanao’s first and only Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, sat on the front row. He was a favorite for souvenir photos by the MPs including Mohagher Iqbal, BARMM Minister of Education. Quevedo also had photographs, although separately, with the MNLF and MILF leaders. A staunch critic of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, he was asked to join the photo sessions with the MPs onstage, Marcos kissing the hand of the Cardinal who is a relative of the President’s grandmother on the Edralin side. The Cardinal said the prayers for the Catholics during the interfaith prayers at the oath-taking of Marcos, Jr. on June 30, 2022.
- MindaNews chanced upon Abdulkarim Misuari and Abdullah Hashim embracing each other like they were long lost brothers. Abdulkarim and Abdullah are the eldest sons of Misuari and the MILF founding chair, the late Salamat Hashim, Misuari’s vice chair during the peace negotiations that led to the signing of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. After the failed implementation of the 1976 peace pact, Hashim broke away from Misuari’s leadership to form the New MNLF that was later renamed to MILF. He passed away in July 2003.
- Ebrahim introduced Misuari to Salamat Hashim’s eldest son, Abdullah who is also a Member of Parliament like Misuari’s children. At least 15 children of Moro revolutionary leaders, field commanders and members of the peace panels, are among the 80 MPs.
Many are still grappling with their feelings on seeing Misuari beside Marcos-the-son. Misuari was enemy number 1 in Mindanao of Marcos-the-father who cited the “secessionist” campaign of the MNLF as among the reasons he declared martial law 50 years ago – in 1972. The other was the New People’s Army.
Marcos-the-son repeated the same line as his father’s in his first sit-down Presidential interview by entertainer Toni Gonzaga, aired on his birthday on September 13.
“Martial law was declared because of the two wars we were fighting on two fronts,” Marcos told Gonzaga, citing the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army as “fomenting revolution – they wanted to bring down the government through violent means so the government had to defend itself.”
He said the second front was the “secessionist movement down south led by MNLF chairman Nur Misuari at that time.” He cited the uprising “that eventually turned into violence and essentially war.”
In her September 6, 2022 column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam said the MNLF was “not the trigger for martial law; it was the other way around. The MNLF was strengthened because of martial law.” Guiam cited Thomas M. McKenna who wrote in his book, “Muslim Rebels and Rulers: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines” that the imposition of martial law was the “… proximate cause, not the consequence of an armed Muslim insurgency against the Philippine state, and it led to an unprecedented level of violence and disruption in Cotabato and all of Muslim Mindanao.”
Onstage, Marcos and Ebrahim could be seen deep in conversation. At the oath-taking of the BTA on August 12 in Malacañang, Marcos called on Ebrahim, who was with the rest of the MPs, to sit beside him. Ebrahim as MILF chair and head of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party raised the hand of Vice President Leni Robredo in April this year, endorsing her as their candidate for President. Robredo defeated Marcos in the vice presidential race in 2016.
Misuari supported Marcos’ vice presidential bid in 2016 and Presidential bid in 2022.
In a video clip on May 1, 2022 while in Saudi Arabia, Misuari said that while he had a “very sad memory about the governance” of Marcos, Sr., “the fault of the father cannot be inherited unnecessarily by the children or by the sons and daughters so don’t blame, don’t impute any blame on the son at this point in time. Forget about the past but look at who Bongbong Marcos is.”
Entry to the Bangsamoro Government Center in Cotabato City last Thursday was very strict. Guests were discouraged from bringing their vehicles inside and vans were made available at the corner of Gutierrez Avenue and Sinsuat Avenue, to ferry guests to the BGC.
According to the media advisory issued a day before the event, only photographers and television cameramen were to be allowed inside the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex, after presenting a negative RT-PCR result.
“Writers/reporters” were to proceed to a holding area in the “next building with live feed” from the cultural complex.
MindaNews managed to get inside the venue as a guest of one of the MPs. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)