KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 23 June) – Aboard motorcycles and cars, thousands of Bangsamoro people, including members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), endured the heat for a 100-kilometer, three-province slow-moving caravan to dramatize once again on Wednesday their call to extend the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Dubbed “Unity Caravan: A Final Call for BTA Extension 2025,” the vehicles rolled out from Cotabato City past 6 a.m., hours before the Council of Leaders meeting in Manila where political leaders in the Bangsamoro region are expected to form a consensus on the bills seeking the extension of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) pending before Congress.
On June 16, President Rodrigo Duterte met with Congress leaders, Bangsamoro government officials headed by Interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim and political leaders in the region to discuss the postponement of the BARMM elections and the extension of the transition period from 2022 to 2025.
No consensus was reached during the meeting, according to Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who revealed that Duterte directed them to convene as Council of Leaders to resolve the issue among themselves before the final meeting with the President in Malacañang on Thursday, June 24.
The unity caravan, organized by civil society organizations in the Bangsamoro region for the political leaders to back the extension of the transition period in the BARMM, was divided into two groups, with the north-bound passing through North Cotabato and the south-bound traversing through Sultan Kudarat province. Both routes crisscross Maguindanao province.
The caravan converged in Buluan, Maguindanao, where the provincial government is seated, for a short-program where a manifesto was read. It took the caravan four hours to reach Buluan, which can be traveled for a little over two hours at normal cruising speed via Sultan Kudarat province.
Samsodin Amella, co-convenor of the Civil Society Organizations Movement for Moral Governance, said the caravan went smoothly and allowed to pass the various checkpoints despite the huge participation of 6,132 cars and 6,936 motorcycles, or a total of 13,068 vehicles.
“Our message is for the political leaders in the BARMM to unite behind our call to extend the transition period until 2025,” he told MindaNews on the phone.
Elected officials from Sulu and Cotabato City have expressed opposition to extending the term of the BTA, the interim body mandated to govern the BARMM government until June 30, 2022. Officials from Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi earlier backed the extension.
Organizers directed participants to observe health protocols for the COVID-19 pandemic, but distancing, especially among motorcycle riders, were not followed at some points.
Simultaneous caravans were also held in Metro Manila, in the cities of General Santos, Davao and Zamboanga, and Sarangani province, Amella said.
A manifesto issued for the unity caravan said the call for the extension of the Bangsamoro transition period is gaining enormous and overwhelming support from various sectors, including the Bangsamoro grassroots communities, local government units, civil society organizations, religious groups, academe, and peace-loving individuals within and outside of the BARMM.
The clamor stems from the necessity to provide enough room for the government and the MILF to fulfill their obligations under the signed peace agreements in light of the significant delays brought upon by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and other bureaucratic hurdles.
“We believe that this massive support from different peoples and sectors in our society manifests our common desire for peace and development in the Bangsamoro homeland,” stressed the manifesto.
The Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute, League of Bangsamoro Organizations, Inc., Union of Muslim Youth Organization and the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society issued the manifesto.
Clearly, the proposed extension of the Bangsamoro transition period to 2025 is a necessary and inevitable step to sustain the gains of the peace processes and establish the basic foundations for reform, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.
The groups reiterated their appeal to Duterte to certify as urgent the measures pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives to extend the transition period in the Bangsamoro region.
In March, one million signatures were submitted to the Office of the President, which urged Duterte to certify the measures as priority legislation.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, BARMM spokesperson and Minister of the Interior and Local Government, stressed that the bid to extend the BARMM transition period is to pave the way for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The CAB is the final peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. The political track has been achieved with the establishment of the Bangsamoro region.
The normalization phase, on the other hand, is still ongoing, its implementation delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This track includes the decommissioning of 40,000 MILF fighters and putting their weapons beyond use. So far, at least 12,000 MILF combatants have been deactivated.
Normalization also includes transforming six MILF recognized camps into peaceful and productive economic zones.
“We must never lose sight of the narrative that at the core of the issue of extension of the BTA and the period of transition is about implementing a peace agreement that we all work so hard to achieve,” Sinarimbo said. “It is not about the petty local politics in 2022 or of the presidential elections in 2022.”
The peace advocacy group Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC) pushed the extension of the transition period after conducting the Rapid Midterm Review on the Bangsamoro Transition Period from August-September 2020.
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, MPC secretary general, urged the political leaders in the BARMM to unite behind the move to extend the transition period in the Bangsamoro region.
“May the larger interest and welfare of the Bangsamoro people prevail in the hearts and minds of all leaders. May they heed the cries of the ordinary Moro people,” she said Wednesday.
Congress failed to pass the measure before they adjourned sine die last June 4.
With at least 41 session days before the filing of candidacy for the 2022 elections, it is apparent that the success of the peace process is once again at the hands of our legislators and the President, MPC said in a statement on June 20. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)