Mission accomplished: 1M signatures for BTA extension achieved

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 17 March) – Peace advocates campaigning for the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) have successfully gathered one million signatures, and counting, which will be submitted to Malacañang at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 18.

Supporters of the move to extend the transition period in the BARMM, in a virtual presser in Manila on Wednesday (17 March 2021), present the one million signatures, which they will submit to Malacañang on Thursday, 53rd anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre. Photo courtesy of Mindanao Peoples Caucus

The submission of the signatures will coincide with the 53rd anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre, which involved the killing of at least 23 Moro recruits by the military for “Oplan Merdeka,” an alleged clandestine Philippine government plan to invade Sabah. The Jabidah Massacre, which happened on Corregidor Island on March 18, 1968, was considered as one of the flashpoints that ignited the Moro insurgency in Mindanao.

In a virtual presser Wednesday, lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of Mindanao People’s Caucus, said the submission of the signatures petitioning President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as priority legislative measure the extension of the transition period in the BARMM is crucial considering the looming adjournment of Congress.

She noted that there are only 16 session days left from today until the Second Regular Session of the 18th Congress adjourns sine die on June 5.

“[We will submit the one million signatures to the Office of the President] on the 53rd anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre,” said Arnado. She noted that 53 years later, the Bangsamoro people are still struggling and trying to build peace in Mindanao, to implement the peace agreement between the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The creation of the Bangsamoro region is the key component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal signed by the government and the MILF in 2014 after 17 years of on-and-off negotiations.

BARMM was created two years ago following the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, more popularly called the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

The MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), whose mandate will end on June 30, 2022, governs it.

In November, the BTA passed a resolution urging Congress to extend the Bangsamoro transition period from 2022 to 2025.

The online campaign started on February 10 and the target one million signatures were achieved on March 10, with a Maranao woman named Salimah Dilunugon as the one millionth signatory.

The first to sign the petition is a Tausug from Sulu named Al-Hakim Octavio.

The online signature campaign stated: “We believe that the BTA and national government will be able to accomplish more and uplift the quality of life of the people on a massive scale if they will be given additional time to implement the remaining tasks especially on the much needed institutional reforms and the normalization process for the thousands of MILF combatants who seek to return to peaceful and progressive civilian lives.”

“We appeal to you, Mr. President, to certify the extension bill as urgent and allow the transition period to succeed in the larger context of the peace process,” it added.

The petition website.

As of 8:10 p.m. Wednesday, March 17, at least 1,123,498 individuals have signed the online petition (https://barmm4all2025.com/) for the extension of the transition period in the BARMM.

Arnado said the printing of the one million signatures consumed at least 50 reams of bond paper, bound into 72 pieces.

“We are all praying that President Duterte will listen and certify the measure extending the transition period in the BARMM as urgent,” she said.

Given the limited window until the adjournment of the current Congress, Arnado said the urgent certification by the President will, among others, fast-track the process by doing away with the rules on three separate hearing days, referring to the first reading (committee level), second reading (plenary deliberation) and third reading (amendments, if any, and voting by the members).

She clarified that the petition to extend the transition period does not include the extension of the term of the current set of BTA officials.

Lawyer Hanan Kahalan, of the CSO Movement for Moral Governance, said they have submitted 55 resolutions and statements of support to the Senate and House of Representatives supporting the call to extend the transition period in the BARMM.

Except Sulu, the rest of the provincial governments in the BARMM, namely, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi passed resolutions backing the extension of the transition period, she noted.

Kahalan added they are “getting positive responses from Senate and House members involved in the committees where the bills were filed.”

Professor Abdulhadi Daguit, president of the Federation of Bangsamoro Coordinating Councils of the Philippines, said they prepared a short program involving 100 persons, which will be conducted in the vicinity of Malacañang if allowed, during submission of the one million signatures.

“The President plays a key role to expedite the passage of this law (to extend the transition period in the BARMM),” he said.

In Cotabato City, at least 6,000 vehicles are expected to join a caravan supporting the extension of the transition period, said Hashim Manticayan, president of the 100-strong member League of Bangsamoro Organization.

“We are hopeful that President Duterte will listen to the sentiment of the Bangsamoro people,” he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)