DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 January) — Many had given up hope of seeing Moro revolutionary leaders Nur Misuari, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Muslimin Sema – now in their 70s and 80s – in one venue, embracing each other like long-lost brothers and vowing to work together for the Bangsamoro that they have been fighting for since half a century ago.
On September 15, 2022, the unimaginable happened at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in the Bangsamoro Government Center in Cotabato City, at the inaugural session of the new 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.
Marcos is the son of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. who drove these men, then in their 20s and 30s, and thousands like them, to take up arms to fight for their right to self-determination, following the Jabidah Massacre of 1968 and the declaration of martial law in 1972.
Although the reconciliation happened under the Marcos administration, the decision of the MNLF under Misuari to be part of the MILF-led BTA happened under the Duterte administration, in December last year.
The MNLF under founding chair Misuari and MNLF under Muslimin Sema and the late Yusop Jikiri, were earlier invited by the Aquino and Duterte administrations to nominate members to the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the MILF-led BTA. The MNLF under Sema-Jikiri sent their nominations.
Misuari declined the invitations until December 2021, two months after President Duterte signed Republic Act 11593, the law resetting the first election of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) from May 9, 2022 to May 13, 2025.
BARMM comprises the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao (since September, divided into Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur). Sulu, and Tawi-tawi, and the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato.
RA 11593 effectively extended the transition period which would have ended on June 30, 2022, for another three years until June 30, 2025.
Platform for the people
“We are law-abiding citizens, so if we want to serve our people, legally, this is the platform that is available. I don’t think there is another platform for now, na pwede natin ma serve ang mga kapatid natin, kababayan natin sa five (provinces) except ito,” Member of Parliament Abdulkarim Misuari, eldest son of the MNLF founding chair and the late Desdemona Tan, told MindaNews in August.
The names of Misuari’s nominees to the BTA were submitted to Duterte but the outgoing President, who could have, under the law, appointed a new set of 80 members of the BTA, opted to leave that task to the next President.
On August 12, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. administered the oath of the 80-member BTA, most of them members of the first BTA. Marcos also reappointed MILF chair Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Balawag Ebrahim (real name of Al Haj Murad Ebrahim), as interim Chief Minister.
The BTA now has Members of Parliament coming from the two revolutionary fronts that negotiated peace with the Philippine government – the MNLF under Misuari and Sema-Jikiri and the MILF .
Marcos appointed 41 members nominated by the MILF, as provided for by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), seven members nominated by the MNLF under Sema and seven nominated by MNLF under Misuari.
Misuari’s two children – Abdulkarim and Nurredha – are among the seven MPs from the MNLF-Misuari camp.
Another daughter, Nur-Ainee, is now a Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Social Services and Development.
Misuari signed two peace agreements – the 1976 Tripoli Agreement under the Marcos Sr. administration and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) under the Ramos administration. Murad succeeded Salamat Hashim as MILF chair after Hashim succumbed to an illness in July 2003. Murad was chair when the MILF peace panel under Mohagher Iqbal signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014, both under the Aquino administration.
The 1996 FPA was supposed to fully implement the 1976 peace pact. A full week after signing the FPA, Misuari was elected Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). He ran as candidate of the ruling party under President Ramos, unopposed, because Ramos urged the other candidates for governor to withdraw their candidacies. Misuari was supposed to have served until 1999 but ruled on holdover capacity because Congress took so long in passing the law that would have incorporated the provisions of the 1996 peace pact. Misuari was governor until he left for Malaysia in November 2001 following the siege in Zamboanga and was arrested off Sabah for alleged illegal entry. He was brought back to the Philippines by then Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza in January 2002.
Misuari has repeatedly claimed the 1996 FPA has not been fully implemented. Implementation of the CAB on the other hand is still ongoing. The CAB paved the way for the creation of the BARMM, the new autonomous region that replaced the ARMM.
Republic Act 11054, the enabling law of the CAB, provides that the MILF “shall lead the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, without prejudice to the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front in its membership.”
In 1976, the year the Tripoli Agreement was signed, Misuari was chair of the MNLF (and its peace negotiating panel), Hashim was vice chair and Sema was secretary-general.
Hashim eventually left Misuari to set up the MILF in the late 1970s while Sema would join 14 other MNLF leaders in setting up the Executive Council to take over leadership from Misuari in April 2001. The Sema faction supported the MILF peace agreement as “partial fulfillment” of the MNLF peace agreements.
Misuari would call the MILF and MNLF-Sema-Jikiri as “traitors.”
A week after the signing of the FAB in October 2012, Misuari appeared at the “17th Bangsamoro Grand Summit Gathering” at the Crocodile Park in Davao City where he rattled off his achievements in the Bangsamoro struggle and criticized the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro as a product of a “tripartite conspiracy” that reduced the Bangsamoro homeland into “five tiny provinces hardly the size of the Cotabato (Empire) of yore.”
The MILF, Philippine government and Malaysia which facilitated the peace talks, constituted what Misuari referred to as “tripartite conspiracy.”
It would take ten years before Misuari’s MNLF faction would become part of the MILF-led BTA.
“Great day for the Bangsamoro homeland”
On September 11, 2022, four days before the BTA inaugural session, Murad visited Misuari in the latter’s residence in Davao City, a meeting Misuari described as “a great day for the Bangsamoro homeland.”
Marcos graced the inaugural session of BTA 2 on September 15 at the Bangsamoro Government Complex in Cotabato City where Murad vowed the Bangsamoro Electoral Code and the Bangsamoro Local Governance Code will be passed by the first quarter of 2023.
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez refers to the new BTA as “the BTA of a united BARMM.”
“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 the oath-taking of the Members of Parliament on August 12.
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 “to harmonize the Bangsamoro peace agreements,” referring to the government’s peace agreements with the MNLF and MILF.
55 of 80
Together, the Moro revolutionary fronts have 55 representatives in the 80-member BTA: 41 from the MILF, seven from the MNLF-Misuari and seven from the MNLF-Sema-Jikiri.
Jikiri’s eldest son, Albakil, was appointed MP under the Duterte administration and was appointed anew by Marcos. He was also Deputy Chief Minister for the island provinces and is serving the same post now.
Misuari’s eldest son, Abdulkarim, is one of eight Deputy Speakers in the BTA; Sema’s eldest son, Omar Yasser, who was in the first BTA, is also a Deputy Speaker. Salamat Hashim’s eldest son, Abdullah is also an MP.
At least 14 of the 80 members of the BTA are children of revolutionary leaders, field commanders and members of peace negotiating panels.
RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, 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.”
It is also expected that by the end of the transition period, the normalization track of the peace process, which includes decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons, transformation of MIFL camps, redeployment of military troops, disbandment of private armed groups, among others, shall have been completed.
According to the peace agreement between government and the MILF, the government and MILF peace panels, the Malaysian facilitator and the Third Party Monitoring Team 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.”
Guiamel Alim , a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, said the measure for the performance of the new BTA “is the use of their ‘authority’ for the well-being of the people in the BARMM.”
“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).” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)