COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 16 July) – Retired Army Colonel Dickson Hermoso, an assistant secretary at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), has joined the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) as chief of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTR).
Hermoso, a veteran of the Moro rebellion in Mindanao, is the first and only Christian and ex-military official to hold a ministerial position in the newly created political entity.
BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, also known as Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, signed his appointment paper on Monday, July 15.
While in military service, Hermoso acted, among others, as spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division (ID) based in Maguindanao.
“[My appointment is] true to what is the essence of the Bangsamoro – that it is a convergence of Moro, Christian and IP (indigenous peoples) communities,” Hermoso said in a phone interview Tuesday.
After almost three decades, Hermoso retired from military service in 2016 as inspector general of the 6ID, previously the MILF’s archenemy until the forging of the final peace agreement five years ago.
The government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014 after four decades of conflict that killed over 120,000 persons, including civilians.
The CAB’s key component is the creation of a new Bangsamoro region, now known as BARMM.
The BARMM replaced the 29-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in February following the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, popularly called the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Hermoso as OPAPP assistant secretary in January 2017.
Ebrahim described Hermoso as “qualified and capable to effectively manage the MOTC.”
“He is the first Christian in the Cabinet. But there are several other Christians in the BTA,” Ebrahim said in a text message.
BTA stands for Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the body tasked to govern the BARMM until its regular officials are elected in 2022.
While in military service, Hermoso was popular among the peace movement circle in Mindanao.
With a rank of major in 2004, he served as the secretariat head of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.
“Ever since, peace-building has been my passion. [I always believed that] war is never a solution,” he said.
As colonel and the 6ID spokesperson, he attributed in 2013 the absence of gunfire between the military and the MILF in the past two years to the continuing peace advocacy both sides conducted on their ground forces.
The 6ID’s area of responsibility in Central Mindanao, including Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces, had been the scene of the fiercest encounters between the military and the MILF fighters, including the 2000 all-out war of deposed President Joseph Estrada.
As BARMM minister for transportation and communications, Hermoso vowed to continue his peace advocacy while promoting transparency and initiating reforms to agencies attached at his office, including the Land Transportation Office, a widely perceived corrupt institution in the Bangsamoro region.
“One of the biggest challenges is how to restore the public’s trust to the LTO,” he said.
Hermoso would also be overseeing the operations of air and sea ports in the region composed of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Cotabato, Marawi and Lamitan. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)