The real transition for the Bangsamoro
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), led by Chief Minister Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim, must be equal to its mandate as interim government of the expanded Moro region if it is to retain its leadership in the first elections of 2022.
With more than half of the 80-member BTA, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group-turned-political force dominates the transition regime. The new bureaucrats need to solidify their leadership by building a strong political party and jump-starting social and economic reforms, to forge a road to lasting peace and growth in the Moro region.
How will the MILF-led interim government meet these challenges in three years, in a region ruled by feudal oligarchs and ethnic clans who also claim the region’s wealth, land and resources? Traditional power in the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) is wielded by at least 34 political families, many of whom will capture congressional seats and local government posts in the May 2019 elections. Some of their members have also been appointed to the BTA.
As in the now-extinct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the new Bangsamoro regime creates two nexus of political authority—the BTA, and the old system of dynasties present in Congress and LGUs. For sure, the traditional politicians will sneak into the BAR parliament, while some BTA leaders will morph into politicians with their own fiefdoms. The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) guarantees such opposing claims of authority when Congress expunged a provision banning political dynasties in the new Moro region. This compromise runs smack against the “democratic political system” which the BOL enshrines.
Thus, the BTA will have to coexist with the bedrock of feudal power in the region. This is expected, since the MILF as a rebel group was not keen on changing existing power relationships that would have democratized access to governance for the marginalized populations. Under coexistence, the region’s political families will compete for a bigger pie of the region’s economic resources and development opportunities in the new system.
The MILF cadres in the BTA face a narrow window in making the interim government inclusive and depriving the local power blocs the chance to expand their political base so critical in future political exercises. How will the MILF-led BTA balance itself against the hegemonic influence of the powers-that-be without yielding to old politics?
Now the BTA’s program, Murad says, prioritizes education, health, economic development, infrastructure and “moral leadership” in Moroland. Whether such a program will alleviate the social injustice that ignited the Moro struggles is unclear. Truth is, what can potentially correct the historical social injustice against the Moros—land redistribution and the settling of land disputes—is indiscernible in the BOL, much less included in the BTA’s menu of 10 priorities.
Yet agrarian reform constitutes the real transition that will put closure to centuries-long social unrest fueled by land dispossession and displacement. The right to land is the heart of the armed conflict in the Moroland. The political territory in the expanded Moro region serves mainly for self-governance and autonomy where, based on the BOL, existing land property ownerships are retained even if these had been acquired by the elite, the transnational corporations and powerful clans over decades of anti-Moro atrocities. Without redistributive land reform to rectify unjust property relations that lock millions of landless farmers to perpetual poverty, the peace that the new order seeks to establish will not last.
Peace advocates and progressives may still give critical support to the new Bangsamoro regime for as long as its new leaders institute policy reforms toward inclusive governance, where grassroots communities have a voice in charting the region’s political and growth maps. Such option may include forming political parties to engage in the region’s parliamentary elections.
Another option is to work for agrarian reform as a social justice platform. The BTA and the elected parliamentary government that will succeed it should take this as a legitimate challenge. To make this happen, however, the Bangsamoro leadership needs a reform vision, and must be ready to deal with local oligarchs and corporate landholders. This is the acid test for the new Bangsamoro leadership.
Bobby M. Tuazon is the policy studies director of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance and teaches in UP Manila.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.