Robredo to Bangsamoro: “I will be with you 100%” to achieve peace and justice

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) – Vice President Leni Robredo’s first stop in her campaign sortie in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) on Wednesday was the Grand Mosque, a symbolic gesture to pay respects to the Moro people. From there, she met with the Catholic Archbishop and clergy, graced a rally where she was proclaimed the “People’s President,” and called on the Bangsamoro Chief Minister and his Cabinet, assuring them that if she were elected President, “I will be with you 100% making sure that all available government help will be at your disposal, to make sure that under my administration, we will be able to really achieve what we had longed for, for so long.” 

Vice President Leni Robredo’s first stop in her campaign sortie in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is the
Grand Mosque in Cotabato City on 16 March 2022. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Wearing a black hijab that covered part of her pink blouse, Robredo, who won in four of five Moro-dominated provinces in 2016, said “kaisa po ninyo kami, kaisa n’yo kami sa paghangad na makamtan hindi lang siguro yung peace na inaasam pero yung justice, yung justice na matagal nang kinakailangang makatamtan (We are with you. We are with you in the desire to achieve not only the peace we hope for but also justice, the justice that we need to achieve).” “It is only when justice is served (that) peace will prevail,” she told officials of the resource-rich region that suffered through decades of historical injustices and armed conflicts, and the marginalization and minoritization of its people.

Robredo was responding to Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, who, at the end of his welcome remarks, said: “we look forward with the Vice President to be our next President in order to achieve the continuity we need for the implementation of the peace process.”

Ebrahim,  concurrent chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said it is “crucial to engage with like-minded leaders that have the political will to continue the implementation of the peace process” so that  “together, we will continue to walk the path of peace and progress not only in the Bangsamoro, in Mindanao, but the entire country.”

Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim with Vice President Leni Robredo during her courtesy call on 16 March
2022. Photo courtesy of Bangsamoro Information Office

The BARMM, he narrated, is not an ordinary government entity but the product of a peace process between government and the MILF, preceded by decades of armed conflict; that the transition period is one of the most crucial phases of any peace process as “we must put in place the bureaucracy, systems, processes, and laws needed for a responsive and progressive Bangsamoro Government;” and that it is also a “golden opportunity to implement major reforms and programs for the betterment of the people and to give justice to the sacrifices of the mujahideens and the communities that went through so much pain and suffering for the sake of the struggle.”

He noted that while they have achieved much during the three years of BARMM,  there is still so much to do both in the political and normalization tracks “to ensure the smooth transition of our fighters from combatants to civilian and productive members of our society.”

No endorsement but 

The Bangsamoro Government has not officially endorsed a Presidential candidate although on October 4, 2021 or four days before the last day for filing of certificates of candidacy, Ebrahim issued a statement that the Government of the Day “expresses its strong support to President Rodrigo Duterte’s choices of next leaders, and Mayor Sara Z. Duterte should she run for the highest position of the land.”  

Ebrahim said they are confident Sara, the President’s daughter who is Davao City mayor, “will continue the legacy of peace and commitment to progress in Mindanao, especially in the BARMM.”

Mayor Duterte filed her COC for a third term as mayor but later opted to run for Vice President, teaming up with former senator and Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas. 

When Ebrahim issued that statement, the BARMM was awaiting the President’s signature on the bill resetting the first election of the Bangsamoro Parliament from May 2022 to May 2025, effectively extending the Bangsamoro transition period that would have ended on June 30, 2022 to June 30, 2025.  

Along that long stretch of Gutierrez Avenue leading to the Bangsamoro Government Center on Wednesday, pink pandala (flaglets) adorned the center island. The LED screen at the entrance which is used for announcements and greetings, welcomed the Vice President. 

PInk pandala at the center island along that long stretch of Gutierrez Avenue, leading to the Bangsamoro Government Center in Cotabato City. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Robredo is the second Presidential candidate to pay a courtesy call on the Bangsamoro Government. The first was Manila Mayor Ishko Moreno on February 21. Moreno is the candidate of Maguindanao Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, the three-term governor (2010 to 2019) who intends to return as governor against reelectionist Bai Mariam Sangki Mangudadatu, wife of his cousin Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu, incumbent governor of neighboring Sultan Kudarat province. 

The reelectionist governor and her husband are supporting the Marcos-Duterte tandem.

Maguindanao is the vote-richest province in the BARMM with 818,790 registered voters as of December 14, 2021, out of the regional total of 2.4 million. 

Vice President Leni Robredo addresses the crowd at the Cotabato State University grounds in Cotabato City on 16 March 2022. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

In the 2016 elections, Robredo won in four of five provinces then under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Robredo told the crowd at the rally in the Cotabato State University that Maguindanao gave her 220,000 votes against Marcos’ 80,000.  Robredo’s next stop in her BARMM sortie on Wednesday was Basilan, which gave her 73,000 votes against Marcos’ 28,000. Basilan’s lone district representative in Congress, Mujiv Hataman and his wife, Isabela City Mayor Sittie Djalia, are endorsing her. 

Robredo is the region’s “best chance” for peace and progress, according to Rep. Hataman, the longest-serving governor of the ARMM (December 2011 to February 2019). 

He said Robredo understands the Bangsamoro’s history and struggles. 

Basilan residents await the arrival of Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Kiko Pangilinan — candidates for President and Vice President — at the town plaza in Isabela City. This is the first time in 30 years that a Presidential candidate visited Basilan to campaign. Senator Jovito Salonga campaigned in Basilan in 1992 when he ran for President. MindaNews photo by EIZEL HILARIO

In 2016, Robredo also won in Lanao del Sur and Tawi-tawi but lost big to Marcos in Sulu: she got only 46,218 votes against Marcos’ 127,437.

Marcos, however, won in all four provinces of Region 12 or Soccsksargen, where Robredo also barnstormed on March 15 and 16 – in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato, Koronadal in South Cotabato, and General Santos City where supporters from South Cotabato as well as those in neighboring Sarangani province gathered for a grand rally Tuesday evening. She also visited Sultan Kudarat province on Wednesday afternoon. 

South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo is the President of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas which endorsed Marcos Jr. as its Presidential candidate during its national convention held in Tupi, South Cotabato on September 18, 2021. He administered Marcos’ oath as member and party chair on October 5.

Bangsamoro in transition 

Robredo said she knows that the BARMM, a regional autonomy in transition, “will be needing, still, a lot of help from the national government to make sure that everything that you’ve planned will be implemented in the manner that you hope it will be implemented and this is just to affirm our 100% commitment that should we be given the chance to lead this country, I will be with you 100% …”

BARMM is celebrating the 8th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and the MILF on March 27and the third anniversary of the inauguration of the BARMM on March 29. 

The CAB was forged under the Aquino administration but Congress adjourned without passing its enabling law or what was supposed to be the Bangsamoro Basic Law of which Robredo was a co-author. 

The enabling law — what is now Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM — was eventually passed in 2018. 

Robredo lauded the Duterte administration for using its political will to pass the law. 

“We are very happy that the current administration has yielded its political will to make sure this would be passed under this administration and this is an opportunity for us to thank you and to congratulate you for taking on the cudgels of doing this all important but very difficult work. It is a very important first step in achieving the peace that we have yearned for for so long,” she said. 

Presidential bet Leni Robredo greets crowd at the Cotabato City State University grounds in Cotabato City on 16 March 2022. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Robredo said that despite their limited mandate and resources, the Office of the Vice President “concentrated our efforts” in Mindanao in the Bangsamoro region through their Angat Buhay program and also during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She said her support for peace in the Bangsamoro is “an advocacy that I sort of inherited from my husband” Jessie Robredo, who was Local Governments Secretary when he was killed in a plane crash in 2012. “He was very passionate in bringing together all officials in the region and exploring ways by which peace can be achieved.” 

Co-authoring the Bangsamoro Basic Law while she was in the House of Representatives “was an emotional decision … because I felt I would be continuing the advocacy that was left unfinished because of his death.”

“I know it is a continuing struggle, what you have achieved so far is the most difficult and the mere fact we are here today is testament that we have hurdled the most difficult part,” Robredo said as she thanked the officials.

“We are grateful that you are the men and women at the helm of the BARMM administration, knowing that the entire region … everyone who has been yearning for this, are in very good hands.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)