Brighter prospects peak for BARMM in PBBM’s pleasant stance, emerging MILF-MNLF reunion

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – Whatever initial gains achieved in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) since 2019 are expected to multiply in the next three years, with the interim regional officialdom gaining mostly surprising boosters under the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

The momentum began last month when the President, fondly called PBBM, appointed all 41 nominees of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the extended realm of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), and even made the interim parliament “more inclusive” by increasing the number of representatives from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) endorsed by both Muslimin Sema and Nur Misuari.

Aptly advised by officials privy to the intramurals among MILF and MNLF leaders, PBBM in high spirit swore-in his 80 appointees in Malacañang on August 12, fleshing out his campaign slogan for unity and to be the “healing” President of the Philippines, and discarding divisive efforts from opposing politicians that instigated the intriguing birth of the so-called “MILF-Salamat wing.”

PBBM, through emissaries like Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Anton Lagdameo, DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos and reappointed Peace Adviser Carlos Galvez Jr., among others, arranged “social meetings” in Davao City on Sept. 10 and 11 for BARMM officials led by two-term interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim to trade hugs with MNLF founding Chairman Misuari and other leaders once adamant to MILF-led undertakings.

Despite signs of unity in the choice of members in the refreshed interim parliament or BTA-2 and the reunion of MILF and MNLF top leaders in Davao City, skepticism persisted. Skeptics thought it was unlikely for PBBM to set foot in the BARMM seat here because the “Government of the Day” through its United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) endorsed his staunch rival, Vice President Leni Robredo.

But PBBM exemplified another surprise. He came on September 15, graced the BTA-2 opening session and listened to formal report of reappointed Chief Minister Ebrahim on the gains in BARMM;s first three-year existence.

Added to the surprise was the physical attendance of Misuari, who traded hugs with estranged comrade Sema of the so-called MNLF’s “Council of 15” in the presence of the President. Misuari and Sema came for the President, on one hand, and to inspire their respective nominated BTA-members, on the other. Sema’s seven nominees included his son Omar Yasser, while Misuari’s seven representatives included his children Abdulkarim and Nurredha.

Another noticeable element in the reinvigorated BTA-2 membership was PBBM’s reappointment of Abdullah Biston, son of the late MILF founding Chairman Ustaz Salamat Hashim. Hashim was one of Misuari’s vice chairs in the then unified MNLF, who bolted and formed later the MILF to advance Islamic principles in an autonomous setup.

The MNLF-led neo-revolution was born under the administration of PBBM’s late name-sake father. It was sparked by the so-called “Jabbidah massacre” sometime in 1968 when ethnic Muslim youths were killed for defying reportedly their military trainers’ clandestine plot to train them for an attack schemed for the regime’s attempt to reclaim Sabah from Malaysia.

In the record-setting event here on September 15, speculations ran high that the ills spawned by the dictatorial rule on the Bangsamoro community by the regime of Marcos Sr. could finally find solutions under the regime of the son. Majority stakeholders of peace in Mindanao including members of the diplomatic corps as well as national and local officials entertained such notions, citing the initial acts of the son.

The children-members in the BTA-2 of the late Hashim, Misuari and Sema have expressed similar feelings, admitting that what their fathers failed to achieve in decades under past different administrations can be fulfilled under PBBM’s reign.

Officials from North Cotabato, another province severely affected in Moro revolutionary strides, said reelected North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Taliño-Mendoza attended the BTA-2 inaugural session for his belief in PBBM’s sincerity in helping the BARMM governance attain a meaningful autonomy.

Do I agree with the prevailing positive notions? Yes is my outright answer. I have extensively covered events in the evolution of regional autonomy under the Marcos Sr. government, which inked with the MNLF the 1976 Tripoli accord or “mother of peace deals” in Mindanao, and witnessed how the interim BARMM governance has already done many life-enhancing strides that past autonomous entities failed to realize.

Remarkable welcome

In reciprocation to the coming of PBBM, the BARMM officialdom declared September 15 a non-working holiday in its regional bureaucracy and among private and public schools in this city ostensibly to ease the flow of road traffics and give spectators a wider room to join the event.

Event organizers including the supportive Cotabato City government displayed roadside signs and giant tarpaulins welcoming the President and invited guests from the international and local communities.

Local broadcast and social media entities relayed in their respective domains the live coverage of the Palace media RTVM, enabling those staying in their homes to watch the proceedings of the Presidential address in the inaugural session of the BTA-2 at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center here.

The President was honored with the privilege to sound the gong for the opening of the BTA-2 session, preceding the message of ICM Ebrahim and his own keynote speech.

PBBM sat between Misuari and Ebrahim on the stage. They were joined by dignitaries including Senate President Migz Zubiri, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, SAP Anton Lagdameo, DILG Sec. Benhur Abalos, and Supreme Court Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao.

After photo ops of Bangsamoro officials with the President, Sema, now a BARMM cabinet member, and Misuari met and embraced each other tightly with Ebrahim joining them for pictorials together.

Keynote address

In his message, PBBM President Marcos urged the refreshed interim regional parliament to optimize efforts for the passage of fundamental laws unlegislated in the first three-year regular lifespan of BTA, even as he echoed his vow to provide BARMM his administration’s “utmost” support to make the difference.    

The BTA gained another three-year life span, courtesy of the Duterte administration’s enactment of the law allowing the extension by postponing the 2005 first parliament election in BARMM to 2005.

“Given these new opportunities, to deliver our commitments to the people of BARMM, I urge you (BTA members) to pass all the crucial legislations on fiscal policy particularly taxation and to facilitate the conduct of the elections in the BARMM in 2025,” Marcos said in his speech.

“I also encourage the BTA to pass measures that will secure the welfare of the Moro people, particularly in agri-fishery, healthcare, transportation, communication, digital infrastructure, and e-governance,” he added.

The President lauded the BTA for its gains as three of seven priority laws, such as the administrative, civil service, and education codes, have already been enacted. The first parliament, which served from 2019 to 2022, had also enacted 31 bills and passed 263 resolutions.

For the newly appointed BTA members, PBMM said: We would not have witnessed this glorious unfolding of history without you. We set our feet before this place and herald the triumphs that you have won through courage, certainty and noble bravery.”

“The diverse representation now of the BTA speaks volumes of your answer towards that call for unity, of shared responsibility, and the invitation to advocate peace and development in the Bangsamoro region,” he added.

The President said this “long list of achievements,” including the approval of the Bangsamoro Transition Plan and the passage of the most important codes, was just the beginning.

“As we go on and we formalize the structure and institutionalize the functions of the Bangsamoro government, we will see that those efficiencies will come in and what we had celebrated today and at the very beginning of the existence of the BARMM, what we had celebrated, we will now look upon as only a glimpse of what will happen in the future,” Marcos said.

Report on initial gains

PBBM’s keynote speech was preceded by the message of ICM Ebrahim containing the initial gains of the transitional governance, including the implementation of unprecedented infrastructure projects and delivery of focal services that sum up into the reduction of poverty rate in the region and increased influx of economic investments pegged so far at P8.1-billion as of this year.  

Ebrahim assured the President that the remaining unlegislated fundamental laws, primarily the Local Government Electoral code and the Electoral code will be passed within 2022 or early next year. The lack of electoral was cited as one of major reasons in the deferment of the supposed 2022 BARMM election since parliamentary districts were not set in place yet.

He said the BARMM cabinet has already drafted some of the major bills to be deliberated by the BTA-2. Copies of the drafts of Electoral Code and Local Government code were presented as a reference gift to PBBM at the end of the interim Chief Minister’s message.

BTA-2

He also assured the Chief Executive that the present BARMM dispensation will continue to uphold the principles of “moral governance” and pursue strides for stable peace in the region, the success of which – he said – will be one of greatest legacies of the Marcos regime.

Election of BTA officials

In the morning of September 15 or before the Presidential arrival, the BTA-2 members unanimously elected Speaker Pangalian Balindong to continue steering the interim parliamentary tasks. Balindong, a seasoned legislator for having served 12 years in the lower Congress apart from being part of the pioneer legislators of the defunct legislature of the region, was elected BTA speaker after the death of Ghazali Jaafar in 2019.

Other elected BTA officials were Atty. Lanang Ali Jr., Hatimil Hassan,Atty. Nabil Tan, Atty. Omar Yasser Sema, Atty. Paisalin Tago,Benjamin Loong and Abdulkarim Misuari as deputy speakers; Atty. Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba, majority Leader; Prof. Raby Angkal, Secretary-General; and Abdulgani Caludtiag, Sergeant-at-Arms.

To give flesh to the new administration’s call for unified direction in BARMM, the BTA member no longer elected any minority official.

“All of us will be moving as one in majority for the Bangsamoro people’s welfare,” Speaker Balindong was quoted as telling reporters. (AGM)

(Provided photos are online-generated during the inaugural session of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority or BTA-2 graced on September 15 in Cotabato City by President Ferdinand “Bong” Marcos Jr. The images according to their sequence PBBM’s ceremonial gong sounding, Chief Minister Ebrahim delivering message, Ebrahim’s handover of copies of two codes’ drafts, PBBM and guests witnessing Ebrahim-Misuari hug, PBBM gesturing in his speech, view of Presidential address from distance, foreign dignitaries in attendance, Misuari-Sema hug, and Ebrahim-Misuari-Sema reunion photo. – AGM)

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