From armed to parliamentary struggle: Citizen Murad votes “yes” to Bangsamoro

Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, using his real name Ahod “Murad” Balawag Ebrahim, votes for the first time in his life on January 21, 2019 during the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Law at the Simuay Junction Central Elementary School in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

SIMUAY, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews / 21 January) — “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,” the crowd cheered as Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) entered Room 15 of the Simuay Central Elementary School for voters of precincts 0140A and 0140B at 10:17 a.m. on Monday, January 21 and was led to a sofa apparently especially prepared for him by school officials. “This is my first time to vote,”  the 71-year old revolutionary leader told reporters who had gathered around him to document the historic moment.

Soon after,  the poll chair called out Voter Number 88 and the MILF chair stood up when his real name was announced: “Ebrahim, Ahod ‘Murad’ Balawag.”

Murad voted in the school where he learned  how to read and write. The school is located some 200 meters from the main entrance to the MILF’s Camp Darapanan

Clad in a black jacket worn over a green shirt of the UBJP (United Bangsamoro Justice Party), he received his ballot and went back to the sofa, wrote down “Yes” (in English, he later said), dropped his ballot into the box and by 10:23 a.m., Citizen Murad had, for the first time in his life, exercised his right to suffrage.

His first democratic exercise: the plebiscite on January 21 and February for the ratification of RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao .

Murad voted in the school where he learned to read and write. The school is located some 200 meters from the main entrance to the MILF’s Camp Darapanan.

“This is the first time to exercise my right for suffrage and this signifies that now from a revolutionary, we are transforming into the democratic process so we see that this is very historic because we have been struggling for almost 50 years and it is only now that we see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Murad told a press conference at the covered court of the school, after voting.

“We are hoping that with this development, finally we can achieve the aspiration of our people for peace … and good life in this part of the country and in the entire country,” he said.

Asked if all the mujahideens voted, Murad told MindaNews, “I think 95% nagboto” (voted) as those out on assignment could not vote, he said.

At the press conference, he expressed hope that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) “will be immediately established and we will start to organize our governance structures”

RA 11054 provides for the 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.”

Once ratified, the law will pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and hasten, among others, the normalization process, including the decommissioning of 30% of the MILF’s weapons and forces, in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement that the MILF signed with the government on March 27, 2014.

RA 11054 provides for a three-year transition period where the 80-member MILF-led BTA will govern the BARMM until the first set of officials is elected in May 2022.

From BIAF Chief of Staff to Bangsamoro Chief Minister

Murad joined the armed struggle 50 years ago in 1969, first as a member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and later the MILF.

He was one semester short of completing his civil engineering degree at the Notre Dame University in this city when he joined the MNLF’s “Batch 300” in 1969.

MILF Chair Al Haj Ebrahim Murad talks to reporters after casting his vote. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

He served as Vice Chair for Military Affairs of the MILF and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces during the “all-out war” in 2000 under the Estrada administration, and the Buliok war under the Arroyo administration in 2003.

In a concurrent capacity, he served as MILF peace panel chair from early 2001 — when Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who took over from ousted President Joseph Estrada, waged an “all-out peace” — until he assumed the post of MILF chair in late July 2003, after MILF chair Salamat passed away due to an illness.

Murad, the MILF’s nominee for the top post of Chief Minister, told MindaNews last Friday that they had already submitted the names of the 41 nominees of the MILF to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process for 41 BTA seats. The President appoints the BTA members.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez, Jr., told MindaNews Sunday night that his office “will set a very rigid criteria according to the President’s guidance to get only honest, sincere and competent people to ensure that good governance will be in place.”

“We are respectfully requesting both the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that they should put their best people – who could effectively, efficiently and conscientiously run the Bangsamoro Government,” He said.

Galvez added that they are recommending the “composition of a BTA Selection Committee with equitable representations from concerned parties and government agencies.”

“Our desire and intent is to recommend the (President’s) appointment of only those true public servants who will place common good, public interest and people’s welfare above all things,” he said.

While the BTA is being constituted, the law provides that the 25 incumbent elected officials of the ARMM and the 20-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsamoro basic law, “shall act as caretakers of the administration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region until the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is constituted.”

The “caretaker” provision is not part of the peace agreement but was added by Congress “to foreclose any political interregnum in the governance of the region.”

A total of 2,165,316 registered voters in the ARMM’s Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan; as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela trooped to the polls on January 21, while at least 600,000 voters in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato will vote on February 6. The results of the plebiscite will finally determine the territorial jurisdiction of the BARMM. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)