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BANGSAMORO SPEAKS: Of Pandemics and Governance

(Ceremonial speech delivered by Speaker Ali Pangalian M. Balindong during the 2nd Regular Session of the interim Bangsamoro Parliament on 16 June 2020 in Cotabato City)

BARMM Wali Shiekh Khalifa Usman Nando, Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, Deputy Chief Ministers Ali Solaiman and Abdul Sahrin, Honorable Members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament, distinguished guests, fellow workers in government.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim. Assalamu Alaikom Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuhu.

Whether ECQ, MECQ or GCQ (i.e. Enhanced, Modified or General Community Quarantine) the country has been on lockdown for more than two months now compared to Wuhan. Either we are being more careful or we have not been as effective in containing the contagion. I would like to think it is the former; but if it is the latter, we only have ourselves, the leaders of the people, to blame. If we hope for a better country, region, community, a better future for our people, we can do a lot more as leaders, in fact we should keep on doing more, upping the ante every step of the way. Then and only then can we as leaders, have every right to expect from our countrymen as we enjoin them to work with us.

Speaker Ali Pangalian M. Balindong of the interim Bangsamoro Parliament. Photo courtesy of the BTA Parliament

This is what governance is all about. We have to keep for ourselves exacting standards, constantly reflecting on and making sense of what is happening around us. For instance, we in Bangsamoro are more fortunate as we face this pandemic, what with a lot less number of cases of infection of the deadly COVID-19 virus compared to the National Capital Region (NCR) which has become ground zero of the pandemic here in the Philippines. More than that, we had the holy month of Ramadan; we had the opportunity to reflect on the pandemic and pray with the family for the country’s well-being, for Bangsamoro’s well-being. We all know after all that the Ramadan is all about belief and learning how to be Muttaqun (pious). It is also about the family and the value of togetherness with iftar and tarawih and of course the long awaited and celebrated Eid.

So, this is what I found myself in the past weeks as we were all praying and fasting, I have been reflecting, as I hope we all have been reflecting; where we are now as a people, as a Bangsamoro region. Where we are now as Filipinos. What we have done so far. What we should have been doing more, so that we are able to really achieve what we have fought for ages, what we have hoped our entire lifetime. You know as a senior senior citizen (and this I meant to mention the word “senior” twice), I’m sure you would agree that I have every reason to think about what we have been doing all this time. Regardless of what age each one of us have now, it should not stop us from looking back thinking what we are leaving our family, community and people with for their future.

Perhaps some of us might be inclined to pat ourselves on the back for having accomplished much so far. I couldn’t agree more in this regard. What with having approved 10 bills so far, especially showing our priorities like the establishment of the Bangsamoro Socio-Economic Development Planning System. Which part of the current Philippine governmental system has established a socio-economic development planning system? There is so much more that we should do but I just couldn’t help but highlight this as a milestone; I see it as fundamental as we embark on the quintessential objective of development for our people. It should be the priority of any government, whether national, regional or local.

Of course, this cannot be done without strengthening a government of laws. And so far, our actions have been as vigorous as our commitment to institute a government of laws and not of men. We have established the Office of the Region’s Attorney General, and we have ensured the empowerment and representation of our women and children as we have put in place a commission for each sector. And there are so much more in the pipeline as we complete the foundations of our people’s government. We are not stopping there, despite the babbling and squawking of naysayers, we have made government work for the people. In just a little over a year of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, we have already installed the BARMM Full Disclosure Policy Portal, the e-BARMM system, we brought the regional government closer to the people through Project TABANG and especially now that we are amidst a pandemic, we have been preparing the whole time to face crises and calamities that as early as July last year, we institutionalized the READI-BARMM. Clearly, we have been taking concrete steps to make the government truly work for the people.

All these are not only for show, we are making sure we are involving the people every step of the way. We are not only doing the weekly Kapihan sa Bangsamoro and Radyo Bangsamoro, we made sure we are equipped to adequately and responsibly inform and engage the people, training our people in workshops and seminars on media and in important industries like energy. Certainly, democracy is not just a hurrah word for us here in BARMM.

Make no mistake, and this I tell not only our people in the Bangsamoro but the whole country, that we are committed to peace. We have started the decommissioning process and in fact hired some of them as our palaw (mountain) or forest rangers as we sustain our pride of 301,894 forest cover. Imagine how much more we can do if indeed our trees and natural habitat are all preserved not only for our children and their children’s children, but also for everyone who come and visit us to enjoy and marvel? It should be such a sight and effective medium to achieve inner peace.

I believe we are in the right direction. While we are still building on our institutions, we didn’t fail to start actually taking care of our people. We know that their health is paramount so we came up with the AMBAG program. This has been consistent with our compelling campaign to end violence against women and pushed for a more child-friendly government across the region. On top of that we are working hard to get our people not only work but get the careers they deserve with our Job Portal. From environment to the welfare of our people to preparing them for employment, we are more than confident it’s now just a matter of time we will be able to showcase the beauty and bounty of the region, that we conducted the first Bangsamoro Tourism Stakeholders’ Summit. I can very well tell you that promoting our food alone will not only bring people to appreciate the region, but will also come to marvel our people. How much more if we can show them the kind of place we have been living all this time, one that has been sadly adumbrated by so much hate and violence.

It is then by no surprise that last year saw a remarkable jump in investments in the region, a whopping 4.153 Billion pesos worth of investments, resulting to 2,274 new employments. This is almost double the target of 2.3 Billion. Imagine how much more can be generated in the coming years if we are able to do more. All of these and more are consistent with the transition plan we have prioritized and formulated at the outset. And all these should be easily accomplished especially with the inauguration of the Intergovernmental Relations Body. Basically, all these means that the mechanism is slowly taking shape as we continue to do our work.

These are accomplishments no doubt, but make no mistake, we can do more; in fact, we should do more. As a matter of fact, we have to do more. And there are so much more to be done and we cannot just rest on what have been accomplished so far.

The challenges remain! As we were about to celebrate the Eid’l Fitr, Aslamiya and her sister Asnaida, respectively 10 and 7 years old girls, died of mortar that landed and exploded in their home in Maguindanao. Who could be responsible for such senseless, reckless, Godless act?! We are here assiduously working to fight for a better future of our people, while some are just busy thinking how to disrupt our important and difficult work and service to our people. I can only shake my head in disgust. Whoever you are, have you no daughters or young and promising young girls in your family? If you do, have you thought of what waste you have done just so that you can promote your agenda of anarchy? I’m sorry. I have seen real revolutions in my lifetime. This does not qualify as part of any revolution, not in any puny way.

We have to finally put an end to all this senseless violence. The only way we can do so is to really work hard and accomplish what the people has put us to do and accomplish for them. We are in fact so blessed as a people, as a region. That has been my realization, not only during this long lockdown due to the pandemic. This has long been the truth. We are blessed as a region not only with natural resources but even with our people’s ingenuity and diligence, which unfortunately has not been seen or cannot be seen enough because of the continuing violence in our midst.

You must have relatives who had to stay in Manila during the lockdown. Ask them how difficult it was to be there. Ask them how much effort, how much inconvenience and tremendous struggle just to buy much needed supply in select open stores. Ask them how much discontent every resident in NCR experienced as they expected assistance and responsiveness from their leaders. Ask them how much inconsistencies there were with what the national government says and prescribes and what the local governments do and say. Then ask yourself if we had any and all of those as we were here in our region. Ask yourself if you have done enough so that you and your people need not endure the same misfortune. The pandemic is a misfortune in itself, how much more if you had to be tormented by all these.

The Bangsamoro Region is a fortune in itself. We just have to make it more a blessing to our people. We have to continuously and in fact fast track the work of completing the governance mechanism. We have to vigorously identify industries and develop more industries, show the world what we have and pride ourselves of what we can do. We have been doing that, but we can do more. Be thankful for what we have as a people. Once we have come to that realization, I see no reason why we cannot see ourselves as one people. Once we have come to that realization, I don’t see why the national government, our national leaders, our fellow Filipino people in the rest of this country cannot see that we are one people, that we are not only ambitious, we are proud as we are vigorous and persevering, as we are God fearing people. I hope and pray as I implore all of you to please reflect and all these. Then we can get back to work and this time, work twice, thrice or more harder.


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