Moro CSOs express dismay over Duterte after skipping Bangsamoro extension issue in SONA

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 27 July) – Moro civil society organizations (CSOs) were dismayed over the failure of President Rodrigo Duterte to push the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro region as a priority legislative measure during his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.

Members of Moro civil society organizations join the motorcade in Metro Manila on Monday (26 July 2021) to call on President Rodrigo Duterte to certify the Bangsamoro transition extension as a priority legislative bill. Duterte delivered his sixth and final State of the Nation Address but did not mention anything about the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Photo courtesy of Civil Society Organizations Movement for Moral Governance

In his almost three-hour speech, Duterte cited the signing of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM) as one of his administration’s key milestones, but kept mum over the incessant clamor to extend the life of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

“We’re disappointed that the President did not mention the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro as a priority bill. Nevertheless, we will not stop appealing to him and lobbying before Congress to pass a law extending the transition period in the Bangsamoro region,” Samsodin Amella, co-convenor of the Civil Society Organizations Movement for Moral Governance (CSOMMG).

The Bangsamoro region-based CSOMMG has been strongly pushing for the extension of the BTA for three years until 2025.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), provides that during the transition period, the BARMM will be governed by the BTA, an 80-member body composed of 41 members nominated by the MILF and 39 nominated by the government.

If the transition period is not extended, the mandate of the MILF-led BTA will end on June 30, 2022 when the first set of elected officials shall have taken their oaths of office.

Duterte previously vowed support for the extension of the transition period but a month before the SONA, expressed a “neutral stance” and left the matter in the hands of Congress.

In March, at least one million signatures were submitted to Malacañang petitioning the President to certify the bills extending the transition period in the Bangsamoro region as a priority legislative measure of the Duterte administration.

Amella noted that if Congress will not pass a law postponing the BARMM elections that will effectively extend the transition period, politicians who will not support it “might lose the Bangsamoro vote.”

Tarpaulins with the words “Extend BTA 2025” dot the Cotabato-Isulan highway somewhere in Maguindanao. Photo taken on Sunday (25 July 2021). MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

He told MindaNews on the phone that they will campaign against the national and local politicians who will not support the extension of the transition period.

During Monday’s SONA, Moro and non-Moro indigenous peoples in and outside the Bangsamoro region joined a motorcade of over 100 cars and motorcycles in Metro Manila to press anew the extension of the transition period in the BARMM.

The One Bangsamoro Movement, Inc. (1Bangsa), which counts at least 60 Moro groups as members, also expressed frustration that Duterte failed to ask Congress during the SONA to prioritize the extension of the transition period in the BARMM.

Alan Balangi-Amer, 1Bangsa president, said that if the Bangsamoro transition period will not be extended, correcting the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro people “could become a failure as BARMM is just in its infancy.”

Correcting the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro people is just starting and it needs more time to fully achieve that, he said, adding that in other parts of the world with armed conflicts that have been settled, the transition period usually lasts from six to 15 years.

“I was expecting the President to proclaim strong and loud support for the BTA extension during the SONA, and more importantly to declare it as an urgent bill. I was dismayed that he did not mention it during his speech,” Balangi-Amer said.

The creation of the Bangsamoro region is the key component of the CAB, the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF signed in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations.

The CAB also provides for the decommissioning of MILF fighters and their weapons. Officials from both sides admitted the deactivation process has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that extending the transition period will help allow for its full implementation as well as the other obligations of the parties to the peace agreement.

In September 2019, the Phase 2 of the decommissioning process was launched in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao with 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 (IDB).

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 IDB 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 / MindaNews)

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