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BANGSAMORO SPEAKS: Extension of BARMM transition period: for the Common Good

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 March) — These are strange and unusual times. As we move forward with two years of the proposed transition period for the Bangsamoro region, we must take a look back and reflect on what has occurred and our next steps. We did not anticipate the pandemic, and we must take this new paradigm into consideration as we assess the present situation. With the knowledge we have now, we must ask ourselves: what is the best decision that we can make for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM)?

As of January 2021, it has been two years since the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law and one more year left until the proposed end of the transition. Out of six priority legislative bills, we passed the Bangsamoro Administrative Code last October 2020 and the Bangsamoro Civil Service Code last February 2021. Two more have been filed in Parliament, namely the Bangsamoro Education Code and the Bangsamoro Local Government Code. The other two priority bills are yet to be filed, namely the Election and Internal Revenue Code.

In this aspect alone, legislative work in the BTA is not a simple task. As a member of the Committee on Education, I see how huge the challenges we are facing firsthand. In our drafts for the Bangsamoro Education Code, we are working on a system of education that will balance traditional Islamic education and modern secular education. The preparation and formulation of curricula to ensuring quality service of the schools, universities, vocational, and madaris education will take time, especially in ensuring that the concerns and feedback from our concerned communities are met.

In terms of the peace and security on the ground, we are still dealing with conflict — especially in the SPMS Box, in the areas of Salibo, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak. In addition, the entire Philippine nation is suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a government that people look to for answers, we can and must be able to address the needs of the people. 

It is with these considerations and more that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is strongly advocating for the extension of the transition period for another three years. This indicates that, if approved, the next Bangsamoro elections will take place in 2025. This allows more time for all necessary legislation and mechanisms to be established and functional. It will also allow us more room to learn, unlearn, and relearn the necessary lessons needed for the kind of governance that the Bangsamoro people deserve to have.

In keeping with the spirit of moral governance, we cannot allow the BARMM to launch before it is ready. The BOL, however long-sought and hard-fought, took several years of struggles, negotiations and drafting in order to be implemented. The transition process is the same. Peacebuilding is not a fast-tracked process. It is also not just the role of the government to conduct all of these changes; all sectors of society must contribute to the nation-building process. This means that we must all hold ourselves accountable, and accept when certain mechanisms need more time to be created.

In my experience in the academe, we have learned to see things differently. We know that it takes time to rebuild communities, manage expectations, and gain the trust of the affected communities. More than five decades of armed conflict cannot be resolved in less than three years. There is no magic bullet or over-all cure for these issues.  We must allow time for our communities to heal, and looking at the present situation, the transition needs more time.

Given recent events, we would be setting ourselves up for failure if we stuck to our original timeline. We are not in the same situation as we once were. The BARMM is weathering the storm of a pandemic in addition to the growing pains of forming a government that is fully inclusive and rooted in the moral foundations that we have fought for.

We cannot continue to pose more questions. We must answer them, and answer them definitively. The key to sustaining the peace we have built and are continuing to build is in ensuring that we have the appropriate time to do so. A premature transition, made to act before it is ready, will only exacerbate the strife and conflict that have caused so much anguish in the Bangsamoro.

We call on the President to certify the bill extending the Bangsamoro Transition to 2025 as urgent. The call for postponement is actually our way of managing these conflicts and expectations on the ground so that we can deliver the promise of what the BOL fought for; a just, moral, and inclusive government for our people, at last.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mussolini Lidasan is a Member of Parliament in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He is also Executive Director of Al Qalam Institute at the Ateneo de Davao University)

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