Civil society and Muslim groups in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao expressed support for calls to extend the term of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) from 2022 to 2025.
Various groups launched a peace caravan in Cotabato City on Wednesday, June 23, aimed at urging Congress to pass a law that will extend the term of the transition body in the country’s Muslim region.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao covers the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, and Lamitan, and the provinces of Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, and Basilan, as well as 63 villages in North Cotabato province.
“The transition period extension will not only be beneficial to the Bangsamoro government but largely to the national government,” said Jolly Lais of the Bangsamoro Peoples Coalition for BTA Extension.
He said that once the term of the transition body is extended, the government can implement its commitments under the peace deal it signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.
Lais said there was “very minimal output” in the implementation of the commitments “due to many uncontrollable situations,” including the pandemic.
“This is alarming because the first three years of transition period is about to end in less than a year,” he said.
He said the “only logical and proper way” for the government “to salvage the peace process and put things in proper perspective is to extend the transition period.”
Lais said extending the transition period would be a “win-win situation” for the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The extension of the transition body would mean that there will be no elections for officials in the autonomous region until 2025 to ensure the completion of transitional programs and projects.
Ahod Ebrahim, chief minister Ahod Ebrahim of the Muslim autonomous region, said the extension of the term of the BTA is “a call for peace, a petition for amity and coherence.”
The call for the extension of the transition period for the regional body has earlier got the support of Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, retired prelate of Cotabato.
“The reasons are indisputable,” he said, citing the pandemic that “made it impossible for the [transition body] to have regular face-to-face sessions.”
The prelate said security issues posed by radical armed groups also prevented freedom of travel for officials of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to perform their tasks.
“The constraints of time are simply insurmountable,” said Cardinal Quevedo.
The mandate of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will expire on June 30, 2022.
“The Bangsamoro Transition Authority will surely not be able to complete its mandate within the period of transition,” said the cardinal.
The retired prelate said several major issues in the fledging Bangsamoro region have yet to be resolved, including the status of private sectarian education, the decommissioning process involving members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the setting up of the Office of Settler Communities, and the demarcation of the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples, among others.
He said it is not possible to establish within the allotted transition period “a new political culture” within the Bangsamoro that would be ruled by the principles of “transparency, accountability and efficiency.”
He warned that the national elections in 2022 “would simply erode whatever fragile gains” the transition body would have obtained during the period.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao turned two years old on Januray 21 this year after it was created in 2019 following the ratification of the Organic Law for the BARMM, popularly known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
The law is anchored on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.