Murad to Duterte: Heed transition extension calls to sustain Bangsamoro peace gains

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 26 March) – Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim has expressed confidence that President Rodrigo Duterte and Congress will heed the calls to extend the transition period in the Bangsamoro region to avoid wasting the gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte shares a light moment with Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim (right) during the inauguration of the BARMM in  2019. Also in the photo is Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr. Presidential photo

The CAB, the final peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed after 17 years of negotiations, will turn seven tomorrow, March 27.

During Thursday’s 10th Chief Minister’s Hour, Ebrahim, who also chairs the MILF and popularly known as Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, told the Bangsamoro parliament that the bid to extend the transition period has gained wide public support, including the one million signatures gathered by civil society organizations that were submitted to Duterte recently.

He said that extending the transition period will sustain the gains of the peace process, noting that crucial provisions of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), popularly called the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), have not been fully implemented.

Ebrahim stressed that the CAB’s normalization phase, which provides for the decommissioning of MILF forces and their weapons, and the transformation of MILF camps into peaceful and productive economic zones, as needing more time for implementation.

As of March 2020, at least 12,000 MILF combatants have been decommissioned, comprising 30 percent of the MILF overall members, in line with the normalization phase.

“We are very optimistic that the collective wisdom of the President and Congress will gear towards the complete realization of the most important legacy of this administration – the implementation of the peace agreement and consequent peace in Mindanao, as well as the transformation of the Bangsamoro region,” he said.

Murad said that since November following a meeting with Duterte, the Bangsamoro government, which is governed by the interim Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), has been conducting dialogues geared towards promoting understanding, ownership and support to the call for the extension of the transition period.

The BTA’s term will end on June 30, 2022, unless the BOL is amended that will extend its life for another three years until 2025. In November, the body passed a resolution urging Congress to extend the transition period in the region.

Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of Mindanao People’s Caucus, which spearheaded the gathering of one million signatures, said they learned that Duterte convened a virtual meeting on March 23 to discuss the calls for the extension of the transition period in the BARMM.

All the governors of the BARMM, except Jim Hataman of Basilan, attended the meeting also graced by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senators Christopher “Bong” Go, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Francis Tolentino, Negros Occidental Rep. Juliet Marie Ferrer (chair of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms), Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, according to Arnado.

On the part of the BARMM government, Ebrahim, Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, Environment Minister Abdulraof Macacua, Public Works Minister Eduard Guerra and Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo were present, she added.

Iqbal is also the MILF peace implementing panel chair, Macacua is the chief of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the armed wing of the MILF, while Guerra is a member of the MILF central committee.

Arnado, a lawyer, said that Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan reportedly expressed objection to the extension of the transition period in the BARMM during the top-level virtual meeting.

Duterte’s decision whether to certify or not as priority legislative measure the bills proposing the extension of the transition period might come out in four days from the day of the meeting, which will fall on March 27, or the seventh anniversary of the CAB, she said.

“If President Duterte will certify the proposals as urgent bill, that’s a good [gift] for the CAB anniversary,” Arnado said.

Ebrahim emphasized that the calls for the extension of the transition period have become the talk of the town in the Bangsamoro region, considering also that the coronavirus disease pandemic has hampered the work of the BTA since last year.

“The call for extension of the transition period is a call for peace. It is for the continuation of our collective pursuit for a just and lasting peace in our homeland,” he said.

Arnado earlier said that the calls to extend the transition period do not cover the personalities appointed to the BTA but only the term of the body.

According to Ebrahim, the MILF did not wage the Bangsamoro struggle to get lucrative positions in the government.

“Modesty aside, we could have run for politics long before and [would have] probably won in many areas. We could have stayed comfortably within the confines of a public office during our younger years instead of spending days and nights in the jungle and in the battlefield for the struggle,” the 72-year-old leader said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)