In the name of the peace process

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2021 - 12:00am

Amid the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection cases that are hitting record high in certain parts of the country, the Mindanao region have notably kept their lands safely away from the spread of the deadly contagion. Except for Davao City – the home residence of President Rodrigo Duterte – the provinces in southern Philippines have low COVID-19 incidence.

Dubbed as the “land of promise,” the entire Mindanao have also been largely spared from the continuing onslaught of the African Swine Flu (ASF) that have been destroying the livelihood of hog industry areas in Luzon and the Visayas.

And by God’s graces, or by Allah’s blessings, the two plagues killing people and pigs, respectively, have spared the BARMM.

The twin pieces of good news were shared to us last Wednesday in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay by top officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) on the occasion of their second founding anniversary last week. Dr. Mohammad Yacob, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries Aquatic Resources and Land Reform; and Ameen Andrew Alonto, executive director of the Bangsamoro Information Office (BIO) joined the via Zoom Webinar of our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum.

We tried to reach with BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, chairman of the MILF, but apparently poor signals from the telecommunications (telcos) could not connect us with them in Mindanao. Ebrahim is the MILF chairman whose two compacts with Malacañang, the 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB), and, subsequently, the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), resulted in the creation of the Bangsamoro region.

The founding day of the BARMM coincided with the first local transmission of the COVID-19 contagion hit the Philippines in January last year. “We do have active cases of COVID, but compared to the other regions here in Mindanao we have the lowest when it comes to COVID cases. At the moment, we only have 150 COVID cases in the Bangsamoro region. Our daily new cases are not that high. In the past few weeks, we rarely go beyond 10 cases per day,” Alonto disclosed. Nonetheless, he added, the BARMM have allocated an initial amount of P500 million for the procurement of anti-COVID vaccines.

On the other hand, Yacob noted the BARMM has the same low incidence of the ASF epidemic spread compared to those that hit Luzon and Visayas provinces. But smart alecks would expectedly argue that our brother and sister Muslims do not eat pork anyway. So naturally, they could not care less about losing the hogs due to ASF. Wrong. The entire region of Mindanao is one of the major sources of our meat products.

During their meeting with President Duterte at Malacanang last Jan.21, Yacob reminisced the transition of BARMM after this was constituted under Republic Act (RA) 1104 on Jan.21, 2019. This also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), amending for this purpose RA 9054, or the law that created the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The defunct ARMM consisting of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan got expanded under BARMM. This now included Cotabato City and in 63 barangays in different towns in North Cotabato province in Region 12 that ratified the BOL in plebiscite.

Under the BOL, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) runs the BARMM during the transition period ending on June 30, 2022. The 80 BTA members were all appointed by the President, majority of them coming from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), or at least they were nominated by the MILF and from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The rest are representatives from the government of the Republic.

During their meeting at Malacanang, Yacob disclosed, the BARMM officials submitted to President Duterte their accomplishment report prepared by the Inter-Government Relations Body (IGRB). As mandated under the BOL, Yacob explained, the IGRB serves as the venue of continuing discussions with the national government on issues that still remain unsolved and if there are things the Bangsamoro people need from the national government.

The IGRB is co-chaired by BARMM Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education Mohaguer Iqbal and Department of Finance Sec. Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez for the side of the national government. Iqbal once served as the official spokesman of the MILF during their peace talks with the government.

“So we are very proud on the same day we’re celebrating the two years of very infant government that took over ARMM, finally celebrate it with the President. So that’s why we feel it’s very historical moment with our Chief Minister at Malacanang,” Yacob enthused.

Yacob described how the former warriors from MILF, the MNLF, and the rest of the Bangsamoro people celebrated their founding anniversary in peace and enthusiasm. “It reminded us of the fruits of decades of peace negotiations with the government between the MILF and the MNLF, they were very happy when they saw at the celebration for the first time the Bangsamoro region finally and officially its flag flown beside the flag of the Republic,” Yacob enthused.

Thus, Yacob echoed their optimism on the normalization process taking place in the former conflict areas in Mindanao will continue on track under the peace pact’s decommissioning of the 40,000 MILF members. However, Yacob rued, the anti-COVID quarantine and health protocols slowed them down in carrying the normalization track.

Thus, the entire BTA led by Ebrahim count upon the Senators and Congressmen, especially those who claim to represent and champion the Mindanao region to support the bill seeking to extend the BARMM transition up to 2025. If not, Yacob believes, the MILF’s political arm – registered as the United Bangsamoro Party – is prepared to cast their fate in the coming May, 2022 national and local elections.

Thus, they earnestly requested President Duterte to help them convince the leaderships of the 18th Congress to extend the life of the BTA, not for their sake but in the name of the peace process.

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