BARMM, MILF leaders cheer Senate’s passage of Bangsamoro poll postponement

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 07 September) – Senior officials of the Bangsamoro government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as well as civil society leaders in Mindanao, hailed the Senate’s decision on Monday to postpone the parliamentary elections from 2022 to 2025.

A caravan pushing the extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). MindaNews file photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

Should the House of Representatives pass the same and President Rodrigo Duterte sign the bill into law, it will effectively extend the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) for three more years.

Voting 15-3-1, the Senate approved on third and final reading Senate Bill 2214 or “An Act Resetting the First Regular Elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Amending, for the Purpose, Section 13, Article XVI of Republic Act 11054, Otherwise Known as the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”

The 15 senators who voted “yes” are Sonny Angara, Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Win Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Cynthia Villar, Francis “Tol” Tolentino, Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon, Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

Senators Ralph Recto, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao and Panfilo “Ping” Lacson voted against the bill. Senator Imee Marcos abstained.

If enacted into law, the next president will be given authority to appoint the 80 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which governs the Bangsamoro government. The term of the current members of the BTA will end on June 30, 2022.

Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim hailed the Senate for passing the legislation as the Bangsamoro people “stand to benefit from the extension of the transition period.”

“The extension for three more years gives us a better chance for healing, for rebuilding and for setting the future of the Bangsamoro,” said Ebrahim, also the chair of the MILF.

“Like the gains of the peace process, this is not only a victory for the Bangsamoro but for the whole Philippines,” he added.

Interior and Local Governments Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, also the spokesperson of the Bangsamoro government, described the Senate’s action as a “historic move.”

He particularly thanked Senators Tolentino and Zubiri for working out the passage of the bill.

A rally outside the Senate in Pasay City pushing the extension of the Bangsamoro transition. Photo courtesy of Mindanao Peoples Caucus

“This bill will ensure that we set the course for the newly established Bangsamoro autonomous region towards an irreversible course of peace and development,” Sinarimbo said.

Tolentino said that resetting the 2022 Bangsamoro elections will help ease in putting the promises of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in place for the Bangsamoro people.

The CAB is the final peace deal between the government and the MILF signed in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. Its key feature is the creation of the Bangsamoro region, which was realized in 2019 following the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM.

“Out of genuine desire to see the fullest expression of the peace agreement’s promises, [we] judiciously decided to postpone the (BARMM) elections next year,” Tolentino was quoted as saying in a statement from the BTA.

Last November, the BTA passed a resolution urging Congress to extend the transition period “to allow the BTA sufficient time to fulfill its mandate.” The body noted that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their performance and the delivery of services to the public.

“The resetting of the parliamentary elections in the BARMM shows an honest and compassionate appraisal of the failures and hardships of implementing a complex peace agreement such as CAB amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tolentino said.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan and Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi earlier separately expressed opposition to moves to extend the Bangsamoro transition period.

Ebrahim said extending the term of the BTA offers a “better chance” for setting the future of the Bangsamoro people.

“By extending the transition period – the BTA gets ample time to finish the job and make sure that the next regional officials will work under a system that befits the realities of the Bangsamoro and responds to the changing times,” he said.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the peace advocacy group Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), also lauded the Senate for passing the bill postponing the 2022 Bangsamoro parliamentary elections.

She urged the House of Representatives to follow the lead of the Senate.

In a statement on Tuesday, the MPC thanked the Senate for approving Senate Bill 2214.

The group said it remains hopeful and confident that the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, will reciprocate the effort of the Senate by fast-tracking the passage of House Bill No. 10121.

“With 23 days remaining before the filing of the candidacy for the May 2022 elections, the extension bill is indeed running against time. We continue to knock on the heart of President Duterte to certify the extension bill as urgent,” it said.

“Mr. President, please issue the certification of urgency now. Let this be your lasting legacy for peace in Mindanao,” the group added.

On September 1, the House joint committees on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, Muslim Affairs and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity approved House Bill (HB) 10121 as a substitute bill for five proposals that seek to postpone the 2022 parliamentary elections.

“HB 10121 was filed last week for plenary deliberations. Hopefully, it will be tackled by the plenary for second reading this week,” Arnado said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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