Members of the academe led by the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) with Xavier University (XU) – Ateneo de Cagayan and Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU) in a virtual pakighinabi Friday consolidated perspectives and recommendations amid calls to extend the transition period of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), a recently established autonomous region envisioned to bring lasting peace in Southern Philippines.
With experts and youth leaders exchanging ideas on the necessity of extending BARMM’s transition period (READ: More time needed in BARMM transition, research suggests), we’ve sifted the key points of the discussion to bring you a rundown of what the BARMM transition period is all about, why there are calls to extend it, and what we seriously need to consider in pushing for the campaign.
In July 26, 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), establishing the BARMM and replacing the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). ARMM, established 1989, was created with the same objective as BARMM—to end the decades-long armed struggle in Mindanao. It was, however, regarded as a failure due to corruption and mismanagement (Marcelo, 2018).
Pursuant to the BOL, a three-year transition period will take place before the first local elections in 2022. This will be managed by an interim regional government known as the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA). Thus, last January 2021, BTA celebrated its 2nd founding anniversary. This left the BTA less than a year to complete the transition process.
“While strides have been accomplished by the BTA, some important deliverables are yet to be fulfilled halfway through the transition. Three years, admittedly, is insufficient to cover all areas of transition as mandated by the BOL,” Atty. Meong Cabarde, Assistant to the President for Advocacy and Legal Affairs, said while delivering a brief overview of BARMM.
Cabarde mentioned the BTA’s important accomplishments during the first year (2019) of the transition process focused on “building the bureaucracy.” The second year (2020), however, was “practically robbed from the BTA due to the mayhem that is COVID-19.”
Some laws that are still underway include the education code, election code, revenue code, and many others. With this, Cabarde said, “calls to extend the transition period for three more years or until 2025—some in fact mention until 2028—have been heard across Mindanao especially from provinces in the BARMM region.” Currently, around eight bills have been filed in Congress pushing for the extension.
Calls for extension
Datu Mussolini Lidasan, Al Qalam Institute Director and Member of Parliament in the BARMM, shared in his main discussion the sentiments of grassroots leaders in the region.
In a summit among said leaders, Lidasan said that most of the participants think “the peace process remains incomplete.”
“The BTA faced challenges bigger than what it was prepared for, hampering the completion of the peace process—the Covid-19 pandemic and the bureaucratic hurdles in different levels of government that caused delays in the normalization track,” he said.
“This made the transition from ARMM to BARMM to require more time than what was earlier optimistically allotted,” he added.
Prof. Roderico Dumaug from the XU History, Political Science, & International Studies Department agreed with Lidasan on the need to extend the transition period. For him, this would ensure the realization of a “democratic political system in BARMM.”
“It is my view that we have to further improve the engagement of civil society in the Bangsamoro and help in the formation of a genuinely principled political party in the region so that political power will not be monopolized by the powerful few,” he said.
Michael John Alipio, Executive Director of AdZU’s SALAAM organization also supported the call, citing education and security concerns.
With the education code yet to be passed and the decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants still incomplete, Alipio said the extension is necessary to secure the future of the Bangsamoro youth.
“We have to be certain that when we end this transition, it is already prepared. We do not want to give a half-baked transition to our new generation of leaders, to the youth, he said, “because eventually we’re making this peace and making a better society for the Bangsamoro and the Philippines for the next generations to come…”
Meanwhile, Lidasan shared some fears should BARMM’s first elections push through in 2022.
“Right now, we know what will happen if elections will push through in 2022. It will be hijacked again by the so-called political clans,” he said.
The Marawi rehabilitation and economic recovery are also major concerns that the BTA needs to address before ending the transition, Lidasan said.
“If we have the election come October, mag iiba po. All the people in the bureaucracy parang ang focus nila is—all of us know the election fever—so we are still addressing the Covid-19 fever. ‘Wag naman sana madagdagan tayo ng another fever na yung election fever that will hamper or affect our efforts,” he added.
Despite the reasons mentioned above, the call for extension is opposed by some groups.
Lidasan acknowledged the argument of opposition camps who push for the conduct of the first BARMM elections in 2022. For the opposition, the need for more time in the transition shows the “inefficiency of the BTA leadership to fulfill its promises.” Those who push for extension might also be doing so “to stay in power.”
Lastly, the opposition camp is dissatisfied with “the lack of concrete and profound development in the past three years under the transition administration,” said Lidasan.
Gleaning from a historical lens, AdDU Political Science and History Department Chair Mary Donna Grace Cuenca warned that a call for extension creates tensions and questions.
Cuenca recognized the need to give ample time to the Bangsamoro if the transition is to be successful, but she also said that it can be “misconstrued as a delay.”
“… a delay in the transition can be a reminder of a similar experience in the past in the ARMM as well as a reminder of the historical injustices that the Bangsamoro experienced yet were swept under the rug for decades and where our history texts have been silent about for the most part,” she added.
“So the question is how do we make sure that we do not reopen old wounds?” she asked.
Political polarization of and within identity groups such as the MILF, MNLF, indigenous groups, local clans, and other non-Islamic or Christian groups, is also another tension point that needs to be addressed with the extension of the transition period, according to Cuenca.
Finally, she stressed the need to ensure that the extension must satisfactorily address the needs of the underprivileged Bangsamoro people.
“For us in the academe, the challenge is how do we contribute? How do we participate in that ultimate goal for autonomy?” Cuenca challenged the audience in closing.
The Mindanao academe led by the consortium of Ateneo schools has drafted a statement calling for the extension of the BARMM transition to 2025.
“The Bangsamoro Organic Law: Everything You Need to Know.” cnn. Accessed February 20, 2021. https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2018/07/24/bangsamoro-organic-law-primer-everything-you-need-to-know-bbl.html?fbclid=IwAR3WzDoVdOYw1Fc7ykA9YT-Ve0kaTyhQaO9iyrNeqo5LCiyCKSf8cszYdKY.