KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 2 March) – At least half a million people have signed as of late Tuesday afternoon an online petition asking President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as priority bill the extension of the three-year transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) until 2025.
Launched on February 10 in the President’s hometown of Davao City, the online petition (https://barmm4all2025.com/) targets to gather one million signatures and as of 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, 538,600 individuals supported the campaign initiated by the peace advocacy group Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC).
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, MPC secretary general, said it is vital for the President to certify as urgent the various bills pending before the Senate and the House of Representatives given the 27 remaining session days before the Second Regular Session of the 18th Congress adjourns sine die on June 5.
“We are running out of time… We only have a limited window until June 4. It is crucial that the President certify as urgent the measures seeking the extension of the transition period in the BARMM so that Congress will fast-track their work on the matter,” she said in a virtual presser.
In March 2019, Duterte inaugurated the BARMM, which is governed by the interim Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) whose mandate will end on June 30, 2022, when the new set of elected officials shall have taken their oath.
The Bangsamoro government, seated in Cotabato City, was established two years ago following the plebiscites that ratified Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, more popularly called the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
The BOL was anchored on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the final peace deal signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014 after 17 years of peace negotiations.
Arnado said that various groups in Mindanao have been pushing for the extension of the transition period in the BARMM “because three years are not enough for the BTA to enact priority legislations as well as the proper implementation by the BARMM and national governments of the normalization track of the CAB,” partly due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic since a year ago.
So far, the BTA had enacted two out of the seven legislative priority measures mandated by the BOL during the transition period, which are the administrative and civil service codes, she said.
As for the normalization phase, it entails the decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons, and providing socio-economic package to transform the members as productive members of mainstream society and their communities into peaceful economic zones. At least 12,000 MILF members, or almost a third of the 40,000-strong armed Moro group, have been decommissioned last year for the second phase of the normalization process.
The online signature campaign, which is steadily gaining support with organizers expecting to achieve the one million target on or before March 10, sought the President’s urgent certification for Senate Bills 2019 and 2025, and House Bills 8116, 8117, 8161 and 8277.
These measures seek to amend the BOL’s Section 13 Article XVI, for the extension of the transition period for three years and setting the first regular election of the Bangsamoro government to May 2025.”
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.
According to Arnado, Duterte made known last October that he was in favor of the extension of the transition period in the BARMM, and that the peace movement in Mindanao believes that his stance remains to date.
With this signature campaign, peace loving Mindanawons are hoping to get the listening ears of the country’s first and only President from Mindanao to urgently certify as among his top legislative priorities the measures seeking the extension of the transition period in the BARMM, Arnado said.
Sulu Governor Sakur Tan has opposed the extension of the transition period in the BARMM, while Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman, former governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, has asked for a review of the accomplishments of the BARMM government.
Ustadz Juhan Alihuddin, a Tausug representing the Save Sulu Movement, belied the claims of Tan that “the people in Sulu” do not want the transition period to be extended.
“In the past three weeks, we have gathered 20,000 signatures in Sulu for our online campaign for the extension of the transition period in the BARMM,” he said in the virtual presser.
Arnado said they have forged partnerships with the academe in Mindanao, including the state-owned Mindanao State University and the Jesuit-run Ateneo schools, among others, to mobilize support for the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro region.
In January, Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo, OMI, joined calls for the extension of the transition period in the BARMM until 2025.
Quevedo, Archbishop Emeritus of Cotabato and former two-term president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, issued a statement “urgently and formally endorsing the petitions” to extend the BTA.
“The BTA will surely not be able to complete its mandate within the period of transition. The reasons are indisputable. The COVID pandemic has made it impossible for the BTA to have regular face-to-face sessions. Security issues posed by radical armed groups prevent freedom of travel for BTA officials to perform their tasks. The constraints of time are simply insurmountable,” he said.
In November, the BTA passed a resolution urging Congress to extend the Bangsamoro transition period from 2022 to 2025.
Bangsamoro interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, who is also MILF chair, also pushed the extension of the transition period.
He said the transition period is too short to implement the provisions of the CAB, including the normalization track that involves the transformation of MILF members into productive members of mainstream society.
The governors of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu and Mamintal Adiong Jr., respectively, have rallied support to the extension of the transition period in the BARMM.
The League of Municipalities of the Philippines-Tawi-tawi Chapter passed a resolution supporting the extension of the transition phase in the BARMM.
The BARMM straddles the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato.
North Cotabato Gov. Nancy Catamco also backed the extension. At least 63 villages in North Cotabato opted to join the Bangsamoro region during the plebiscite for the ratification of RA 11054 two years ago. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)