BARMM inauguration, Bangsamoro Parliament’s inaugural session on March 21 

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 13 March) – From grief to celebration, from “all-out war” to implementation of peace agreement, March 21 will have a new entry in the history of the Bangsamoro, 19 years apart.

On March 21, 2019, exactly 19 years to the day President Joseph Estrada declared in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte his “all-out war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will be inaugurated and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), as the Bangasamoro Parliament during the transition period, will hold its inaugural session.

The BTA is the body that will govern the BARMM until the first set of officials elected in May 2022 take their oath noon of June 30, 2022.

Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim (earlier known as Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim) sits beside Akmad Indigay Abas, more populary known as “Kumander Jack,” commander of the Eastern Mindanao Front of the MILF’s soon-to-be-decommissioned Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and now member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority. The two were waiting for the arrival of other members of the BTA for the caucus on March 9, 2019 at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex in Cotabato City. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

In the March 9 caucus at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex attended by 64 of 76 members appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte, some members proposed that the inaugural be held on March 18, the 51st anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre and 84th anniversary of the Dansalan Declaration. Others proposed March 25.

As a compromise, the inaugural was set for March 21.

BTA members apparently didn’t realize the historical significance of that day.

On March 21, 2000, President Joseph Estrada declared his “all-out war” against the MILF in Kauwagan, Lanao del Norte, after MILF forces led by Abdullah Macapaar alias “Kumander Bravo,” took over the town hall, following armed clashes triggered by a land dispute.

Macapaar, commander of the North Western Mindanao Front of the MILF’s soon-to- be-decommissioned Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) is now a BTA member, a Member of Parliament (MP). And so are four other front commanders of the BIAF and representatives of two ailing front commanders.

The 2000 “all-out war” cost the lives of hundreds of government and MILF forces and civilians, destroyed property and livelihood, and displaced nearly a million residents in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

The war also led to the collapse of the then three-year old peace negotiations, the MILF disbanding its peace panel on August 21, 2000. Talks resumed, this time with Malaysia as third party facilitator, when Estrada was ousted as President in January 2001 and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who took over as President, vowed an “all-out peace.”

No peace pact was forged under the nine-year Arroyo administration. Instead, two more wars would happen in the midst of the peace talks: the Buliok War of 2003 and in 2008 after the aborted signing of the already initialed Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on August 5.

Under the Benigno Simeon Aquino III administration, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) were forged but no Bangsamoro Basic Law was passed.

The enabling law of the CAB, Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, was passed and signed into law in 2018 and ratified in 2019 under the Duterte administration.

BTA: from 76 of supposed 80 members to 75

RA 11054 provides that the 80-member BTA will be led by the MILF. The President appointed as interim Chief Minister, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, now to be addressed by his real name, Ahod Balawag Ebrahim.

The MILF nominated 41 members to the BTA while government nominated 39. Seventy two were sworn into office by Duterte on February 22 at the Rizal Hall in Malacanang: 40 MILF nominees (one was unable to attend) and 32 government nominees.

Group photo of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority with Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity Carlito Galvez, Jr. and the last governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Mujiv Hataman during the turnover rites from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in Cotabato City on February 26, 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The BTA members attended the ARMM to BARMM turnover ceremonies at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Center (SKCC) on February 26 and its first caucus on February 27, the same day Malacanang released the appointment papers of 76 BTA members: 71 of the 72 who took their oath; Bai Maleiha Candao, the MILF nominee who was unable to take her oath on February 22; and four new appointees.

The appointment paper of Arlene Napoles-Sevilla, who was among 72 who took her oath, was not among those released. Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez told MindaNews on March 3 that they would write an apology to her and to 10 others for the “unfortunate incident” (the 10 were dropped from supposed “final” list hours before the 2 p.m. call time in Malacanang on February 22). As of morning of March 13, Sevilla said Galvez’ office has not communicated with her.

Sevilla, a professor and civil society leader from Tawi-tawi, told MindaNews she has accepted her fate in the BTA but said she deserves the courtesy of an explanation.

Early morning of March 13, the BTA lost one of its members – Ghazali Jaafar – the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair who was supposed to be Speaker. Jaafar had a heart surgery last year. He took his oath as BTA member in Malacanang, his last public appearance. He arrived at Rizal Hall on a wheelchair, insisted on standing up for the oathtaking but fell on his back while conversing with President Duterte after the photo session.

Jaafar’s death leaves the BTA with 75 members – 40 nominated by the MILF and 35 nominated by government.

Proceed as scheduled

Ebrahim had earlier said the inaugural session will depend on the completion of the appointment of 80 members. But on March 9, he told MindaNews they need not wait for its completion as 76 is already a majority (Jaafar passed away four days later).

He also said they will proceed with the inauguration on March 21 even if the President, whose schedule is very tight these days, may not be able to make it.

Under the law, the BTA will have 105 members – the 80 appointed by President Duterte and the 25 elected ARMM officials whose terms are supposed to expire on June 30, 2019. The ARMM officials will serve as BTA members until noon of June 30.

Of the 25 elected ARMM officials (Governor, Vice Governor, 23 Assemblymen), only 23 are joining the BTA to make for a total of 103 until June 30.

The ARMM’s last governor, Mujiv Hataman, tendered his resignation as BTA member to focus his attention on Basilan, where he is running for the lone congressional district while Assemblyman Khadafeh “Toy” Mangudadatu, was appointed BTA member and will serve a three-year term like the rest of the BTA members.

If Mangudadatu had not been appointed, he would have served only until noon of June 30, 2019. With an appointment, he has until noon of June 30, 2022.

Powers and functions

The BTA exercises all powers and functions of the Bangsamoro Government during the transition period.

The law mandates it to accomplish these “priority legislations”: the Code of Parliamentary Rules and Procedures, Bangsamoro Administrative Code, Bangsamoro Tax and Revenue Code, Bangsamoro Electoral Code, Bangsamoro Local Government Code, Bangsamoro Education Code, Bangsamoro law for Indigenous Peoples, Bangsamoro Civil Service Code.

It also provides that within 60 days of the transition period, the interim CM will submit to the BTA, for its approval within 10 days, a transition plan that shall contain the proposed organizational plan and the schedule for implementation. The transition plan shall be implemented within 15 days from its approval.

The interim CM organizes the interim Cabinet, appoints two interim Deputy CMs from among the BTA members and appoints “such other ministers as may be necessary to perform the functions of government during the transition period,” majority of whom shall be from among the BTA.

According to the law, the Interim Cabinet shall be composed of 15 primary ministries with sub-offices: Finance, and Budget and Management; Social Services;
Trade, Investments, and Tourism; Labor and Employment;
Transportation and Communications; Basic, Higher and Technical Education; Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs; Health;
Public Works;
Local Government;
Environment, Natural Resources, and Energy; Human Settlements and Development;
Science and Technology;
Agriculture, Fisheries, and Agrarian Reform; and Public Order and Safety.

The law also states that the BTA can create other offices on youth, women, settler communities, disaster risk reduction and management, and planning and development, among others; as well as the Attorney General’s Office, under the Office of the Chief Minister. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)