GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 February) – Several Catholic priests in Mindanao’s newest region, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), have welcomed with guarded optimism the formation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the body tasked to temporarily govern the new Bangsamoro territory.
On Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte led the oath-taking of the BTA members in Malacanang. Duterte appointed Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as interim chief minister of the parliamentary transition government.
Fr. Clifford Baira, executive director of the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, urged the appointed officials of the BTA to work in unity and common good of the tri-people in the new Bangsamoro region.
“Now is not the time to be divided. What we need is the consolidation of hearts and minds among the members of the BTA to achieve what’s good for everybody,” he said.
The priest, one of the convenors of the Christians for Peace Movement, said the BTA needs “people with integrity who can govern effectively and without a history of corruption.”
Corruption has been cited as among the key factors why the autonomous Muslim region continues to be the poorest in the country.
Fr. Benjamin Ariel Torreto, vicar of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, said that religious leaders in Cotabato City, both Muslims and non-Muslims, have forged a covenant to support the new Bangsamoro region, where Christians are a minority.
“We committed to enhance interfaith, inter-ethnic dialogue on the recognition, respect and tolerance of Christian faith, religious practices and customs and traditions,” Torreto said.
The diocesan priest also cited the need to institutionalize the continuing political dialogue and engagement between Christian and Bangsamoro leaders and among religious leaders for purposes of peace and unity, including participation and representation in all levels of government.
Cotabato City, the seat of the Archdiocese of Cotabato as well as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), opted to join the BARMM during the plebiscite last January 21. Cotabato City twice rejected inclusion to the ARMM.
Voters ratified Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, popularly called Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), paving the way for the creation of the BARMM to replace the 29-year-old ARMM. During the second plebiscite on February 6, 63 of 67 villages in North Cotabato also voted to become part of the new Bangsamoro region.
Lanao del Norte, however, rejected the proposal to add six of its towns to the BARMM.
The BOL is anchored on the final peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in 2014 after four decades of conflict that claimed over 120,000 lives, including civilians.
BARMM straddles the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Marawi in Lanao del Sur, Lamitan in Basilan and Cotabato, formerly a chartered city of Region 12 or Soccsksargen, and the 63 villages in North Cotabato, which is also part of Region 12.
Fr. Elton Viagedor, a Franciscan missionary assigned in Basilan, hoped the BTA will “truly carry out and live the noble ideals and principles enshrined in the BOL.”
“But the greatest challenge for the BTA is how not to be influenced by the pervading culture and the self-serving interests of political dynasties and traditional politicians in the region,” he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)