BTA extension caravan participants in Cagayan de Oro surprised at hospitality

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 23 June) – As thousands of vehicles rolled out of Cotabato City Wednesday morning for the “unity caravan” calling for an extension of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), their counterparts in the much smaller Cagayan de Oro-bound convoy of 40 vehicles were at first apprehensive because of restrictions imposed due to the spike of COVID-19 cases in the city.

A participant of the 40-vehicle convoy from Iligan City waves as they enter Cagayan de Oro City on Wednesday (23 June 2021). MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

To their surprise, traffic enforcers were already waiting for them at the boundary, ready to escort them downtown.

More than 13,000 cars and motorcycles joined the “Unity Caravan: A Final Call for BTA Extension 2025” that kicked off in Cotabato City, seat of government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), to urge President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as “urgent” bills in Congress that would provide would extension to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority up to 2025. (See related story.)

Salahudin Bin Hamza, of the Mindanao Youth Empowerment Network, said they expected the convoy to run into trouble once it crosses the boundary between Cagayan de Oro and the municipality of Opol in Misamis Oriental since the city is under a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ).

But Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno earlier granted a permit to the caravan organizers provided they would only stay in their vehicles and cruise in the city streets.

When the convoy arrived at the boundary in Opol town, the organizers were surprised that personnel of Cagayan de Oro’s Road and Traffic Administration (RTA) were already there and led the vehicles in the caravan.

A traffic enforcer checks on one of the 40 vehicles joining a convoy from Iligan City entering Cagayan de Oro City on Wednesday (23 June 2021). MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

“We never expected this hospitality but we are happy with this arrangement,” Hamza said.

He said the caravan was their way of giving support to the meeting of elders composed of government officials, BARMM officials, politicians and civil society organizations in Manila on Wednesday to discuss the BTA’s fate.

Hamza said President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to meet these officials in Malacañang on Thursday.

BARMM Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said the meeting of elders in Manila has reached a consensus to ask President Duterte for a BTA extension.

“Gov. Sakur Tan [of Sulu] told us that whatever is the decision, whether extension or election, he will support the leadership of the BARMM and that we should be one,” Sinarimbo said. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)