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The need to extend Bangsamoro transition

In his article in this paper on Jan. 3, 2021, UP professor Dr. Francisco J. Lara Jr. accused the “Bangsamoro Transitional Authority” (BTA) of pushing for a no-election scenario in order to extend its rule. Supposedly, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) poses a threat of violence if this “demand” is not met.

The core problem, as Lara saw it, was that the members of the BTA were chosen “undemocratically,” having been merely appointed by President Duterte upon nomination by the MILF. But this alone is an utter disregard of the fact that many members of the 80-seat Parliament were nominated by the government, and some by the Moro National Liberation Front.

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The BTA is a creation of the BOL or Bangsamoro Organic Law (Republic Act No. 11054), which in turn is the product of at least 17 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine Government and the MILF, followed by the crafting of a law that was ratified by the people through plebiscites. The BOL is thus a product of a train of democratic processes. The BOL does not categorically limit the term of the interim parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to three years. The three-year term limit is imposed on the members of the regular Parliament (Sec. 11, Article VII).

The BOL states that the first regular election of the Bangsamoro government “shall be held and synchronized with the 2022 national elections” (Sec. 13 of Art. XVI). This provision can, of course, be amended by Congress, under Sec. 1, Art. XVII of the BOL. Indeed, four bills have been filed in the House of Representatives to reset the BARMM elections from 2022 to either 2025 or 2028. The first two, House Bills 8116 and 8117, were both filed on Dec. 1, 2020, by Rep. Loren Legarda (Antique, Lone District) and Rep. Esmael G. Mangudadatu (Maguindanao, 2nd District), respectively. The third, HB 8161, was filed by the House majority leader, Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez (Leyte, 1st District), and the fourth, HB 8222, by Rep. Khalid Dimaporo (1st District, Lanao del Norte).

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The recommendation to give the BTA at least until 2025 to complete its mandated tasks originated not from the BTA itself. The recommendation was first made in October 2019 by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Maguindanao. Another recommendation was made in July 2020 by the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (Tawi-Tawi chapter). In October 2020, a similar recommendation was made by the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus, a peace advocacy group, as a result of 21 focus group discussions across the BARMM, during a review of the BTA’s performance up to that time.

All these recommendations cited the need to give the BTA more time within which to complete its mandates, inasmuch as its activities have been greatly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was only in November 2020 that the BTA adopted a resolution addressed to Congress recommending (not demanding, as Lara put it) an extension of the transition period by three years, to June 2025.

The BTA’s proposal for extending the transition period by three years is not meant to oppose the holding of an election, but in effect will cause the deferment to 2025 of the regional election for the BARMM Parliament. Indeed, the three-year transition period should not even be counted from March 29, 2019, the day when the BARMM interim government was inaugurated, because for the rest of 2019 the BARMM had merely continued Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao plans, programs, and projects and 2019 financial allotments. The national government has indeed been preoccupied by the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020, and had to realign priorities and resources.

Like many of us, the website of Lara’s Conflict Alert also relies much on news reports for information in addition to police incident reports. The MILF would know that a threat would be counterproductive to the objectives of the peace process they have embraced. Peace is a process between stakeholders that should be flexible and open to extensions and reasonable adaptations.

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Jose Y. Dalisay III is a lawyer-journalist. He covered the Moro issues as a reporter in the 1980s and later as editor in chief of The Mindanao Cross. Dalisay also taught at the University of the East College of Law in Manila.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro, BTA, Commentary, Jose Y. Dalisay III
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