KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 20 July) – As Muslim Filipinos celebrated Eid’l Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice on Tuesday, Moro civil society organizations (CSO) from various parts of the country prayed for President Rodrigo Duterte and Congress to extend the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) “for just and genuine peace to reign in the southern Philippines.”
While only a few were allowed inside mosques since the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic last year, a lot joined the Eid’l Adha celebrations, many of them had to be content staying outside the mosques in Cotabato City as physical distancing was enforced.
Other Muslims joined congregational prayers in their homes or family compounds, while others slaughtered goats and cattle to give to the poor.
In Marawi City, the Marawi Reconstruction Conflict watch, along with the International Alert Philippines, initiated a “minute of silence” as a solidarity call to hasten the passage of the Marawi compensation bill and for the Meranaws to finally return to their homes.
Outside the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque, the largest mosque in the country located in Cotabato City, hundreds of supporters signed a white tarpaulin praying for the extension of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) until 2025.
“Dear President Rodrigo Roa Duterte: We are humbly appealing to you to announce during your SONA (State of the Nation Address) that (the) extension of the Bangsamoro transition period is a priority bill (of your government),” the tarpaulin said.
Duterte will deliver his last SONA on Monday, 26 July.
Earlier, the President expressed support to the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro region but lately came out with a “neutral stance,” leaving the decision to lengthen the life of the BTA in the hands of Congress.
Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu authored a bill postponing the 2022 BARMM elections, which will effectively extend the region’s transition period. Four other House members filed similar bills.
If the transition period is not extended, the mandate of the BTA will end on June 30, 2022 when the first set of elected officials shall have taken their oaths of office.
Dozens of Moro CSOs and at least one million individuals have signed a petition last March asking Duterte to certify as priority legislative measure the extension bills pending in Congress.
To date, the President did not act on the petition.
Alan Balangi-Amer, president of the One Bangsamoro Movement, Inc. (1Bangsa), an umbrella of 60 Moro groups across the Philippines, said they are celebrating Eid’l Adha with a prayer that Duterte will certify the extension bills as an urgent measure.
1Bangsa also called on Congress to approve the extension bills before the filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2022 national and local elections in October on the occasion of this year’s Eid’l Adha, which was declared a national holiday.
“Giving extra (time) to the Bangsamoro transition will fully address the historical injustices and will give meaning to genuine peace in Mindanao. What we see is the imperative and urgency of its (extension bills) passage,” Balangi-Amer said.
“It is now in the hands of Congress to give extra time for the Bangsamoro transition and be an instrument in building a just and humane society (in Mindanao),” he added.
Earlier, Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan opposed the postponement of the 2022 BARMM elections to allow constituents to exercise their right to suffrage and freely select the BARMM leaders.
Tan added that the current BTA members “were underperforming” in their jobs.
In his Eid’l Adha message, BARMM Interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim noted that those who sacrificed for the cause of the Bangsamoro must always be remembered.
“We owe them the success and continuous efforts to build a new region that can stand against any challenge and pave the way for a brighter future,” he said.
Murad earlier backed the extension of the transition period in the BARMM, noting that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic affected governance in the Bangsamoro region.
Murad said that the extension will allow the parties to implement the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The CAB is the final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. Its signing paved the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro region after its enabling law, Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, was ratified in a plebiscite in 2019.
The CAB also mandated the decommissioning of MILF fighters and the transformation of their camps into peaceful and productive economic zones, which Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, Jr. admitted has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2015, former President Benigno Aquino III led the Phase 1 of the decommissioning process involving 145 MILF fighters and 75 high-powered weapons in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao.
In September 2019, the Phase 2 of the decommissioning process was launched in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao with President Rodrigo Duterte as the main guest. It involved 12,000 MILF members and at least 2,100 assorted weapons “in a process that was completed in March 2020,” according to the foreign-led Independent Decommissioning Body.
Each deactivated MILF fighter was promised a million-peso package of assistance, which includes livelihood and shelter, and 100,000 pesos. The 12,000 decommissioned fighters have received only the cash component and are still waiting for the rest of the package.
Phase 3 was scheduled to start this August. The list of 14,000 MILF fighters with their 2,450 weapons had been submitted to the foreign-led Independent Decommissioning Body last December.
Phase 3 involves 35 percent of the 40,000-strong MILF, which waged a decades-old war with the government in an initial bid for Moro self-rule in Mindanao that eventually concluded in negotiated autonomy. (Bong S. Sarmiento, with reports from Ferdinandh Cabrera in Cotabato City / MindaNews)