Officials praise Senate’s nod on BTA lifespan extension; Lawmakers urge BARMM to work promptly, transparently

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – Proponent officials and peace advocates have praised the Senate’s majority vote for deferment of the first Bangsamoro parliament election from 2022 to 2025, urging the House of Representatives to follow suit in due time for the sake of ensuring success in the administration of the new autonomous region in Mindanao.  

After the nominal voting on Monday, Sept. 6, night, Bill author Francis “Tol” Tolentino and main backer Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri took turns in urging the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) governance to enact its electoral code in 2022 and undertake fiscal disbursements with utmost transparency.

Though the BARMM administration is committed to “moral governance,” critics and skeptics will become irrelevant if fiscal operation and vital decision-making in the region become above board, according to Tolentino and Zubiri.

They believe that another round of calls for transition extension after the 2025 timeline would be awkward.

BARMM and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officials, led by Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim as chief minister and chairman, and the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) described as “initial triumph” the vote of the Senate to defer the 2022 regional election and extend the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) lifetime to 2025.

Ebrahim said all Bangsamoro people, including BARMM’s close to five million constituents, “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. “Like the gains of the peace process, this is not only a victory for the Bangsamoro but for the whole Philippines.”

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 (BARMM charter)” gathered 15 affirmative votes, three dissenting and one abstention.

The affirmative votes came from Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Ronald dela Rosa, Richard Gordon, Win Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Bong Revilla, Cynthia Villar, Francis “Tol” Tolentino, Franklin Drilon and Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, alongside Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

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

SB 2214 proposes the next president to appoint the 80 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim BARMM governing body, who were appointed by President Duterte for a term ending on June 30, 2022.

BARMM spokesman and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo deemed the Senate’s act “historic move.”

“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, lauding Tolentino and Zubiri’s efforts.

Tolentino said an extended BARMM transition period 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. It is legally translated by R.A. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) 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  said after the Senate nominal voting.

Last November, the regional Parliament passed a resolution urging Congress to extend the transition period “to give the BTA ample time to fulfill its mandate” as stunted by factors aggravated by the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It corroborated a midterm review report by the MPC, which warned of BTA insufficient time to complete its tasks.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, MPC secretary general, joined revelling stakeholders in cheering the Senate decision.

She urged the House of Representatives to follow the lead of the Senate. Her group and other supportive quarters echoed pleas for the President to certify as urgent the passage of the lower chamber’s version, noting that 23 session days are left for a decisive legislation.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan and Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi had earlier separately aired opposition to moves to extend the Bangsamoro transition period, and asserted the need for BARMM voters to exercise their rights of suffrage in the 2022 polls.

The House joint committees of Reps Juliet Marie De Leon-Ferrer of Negros Occidental, Ansaruddin Alonto-Adiong of Lanao Sur, and Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu of Maguindanao passed House Bill 10121 as a substitute to five bills on Sept.   1.

Rep. Mangudadatu and Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman of Basilan said the committee report would reach this week the plenary for deliberation.

Mangudadatu, an author of one of the five bills, and Hataman shared public clamor for Duterte’s certification, saying such Presidential push would certainly result in swift passage of the harmonized bill in the House plenary.

Philippine Muslim Today (PMT) news source said her relative-key official in the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLO) had already drafted a certification for possible signature by the President in due time.

Meanwhile, PMT sources said BARMM officials led by Parliament Speaker Pangalian Balindong, a veteran member of the House of Representatives for four terms, have shifted attention to the lower chamber to closely lobby for passage of a counterpart bill.

Sources furnished the PMT some photos showing Balindong and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco trading greetings at the lower chamber early this week. (AGM)

(Attached are online-generated photos showing BARMM officials in a pose with senators Zubiri, Tolentino and Dela Rosa, of BTA Speaker Balindong in a visit to House Speaker Velasco, and of smiling BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim.)

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