Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

By Ahod Balawag Al-Hadj Murad Ebrahim, BARMM Chief Minister  

Opening the Third Regular Session of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority on June 15, we look back two years ago when we first started organizing the Parliament along with the Interim Regional Government. Addressing the Parliament then, I presented issues that face our constituencies and conveyed our priorities as we continue to fulfil our mandate during this complex transition period.

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

I began with a high note of congratulating the Parliament for passing the Bangsamoro Education Code. This legislation not only paves the way for a religious and secular balance in learning but also adheres to our longstanding culture, traditions, and history. It also provides recognition that is long overdue for our asatidz (teachers) and their significant role in molding the Bangsamoro students. We thank our very own Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal and the entire Parliament for making this happen. The swift passage of the Bangsamoro Education Code is a clear manifestation that we can overcome great challenges as long as we put our hearts and minds at the task at hand… as long as we work as one.

Indeed, beyond these Codes that we are bound by the Bangsamoro Organic Law to come up with during the transitional term, we are also shaping up a model in Bilateral Peace Process that the Philippine Government and the Bangsamoro People can truly be proud of, in the history of resolutions of armed conflict. 

The United Nations, no less, has twice congratulated the Philippine Government and the Bangsamoro Transitional Government for certain heights of successes achieved in the course of the Peace Process and the bilateral implementation of the agreement and of the law that has –from the start—gained the support of the international community, the foreign governments and organizations comprising the International Contact Group, the Independent Decommissioning Body, and other international development organizations—notably, the UNDP, UNICEF, the JICA, UNFAO, UN-OCHA, TAF, ICRC, UN HCR and others.

More recently, Gustavo González, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, delivered the UN Secretary-General’s message during his visit to the BTA on February 17, 2021, saying “the UN remains committed to the success of the Bangsamoro Transition.”

We are equally grateful to the Office of the President, through OPAPP Secretary Carlito Galvez for providing and fast-tracking on the implementation of all bilateral commitments to peace on the part of the Philippine Government—including scholarship packages for technical education of beneficiary former combatants and their families, following annexes to the Comprehensive Agreement to the Bangsamoro. 

Through the facilitation of the OPAPP leadership, the World Bank has joined by international partners in the launch last month of the Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund (BNTF) in support to the Mindanao Peace Process. 

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

It is our fervent hope that the same level of hard work and cooperation will triumph as we pass the remaining priority Codes during this Legislative Year.  The BARMM’s Ministry of the Interior and Local Governments (MILG) under Minister Naguib G. Sinarimbo is working closely with the DICT, and the region’s Ministry of Transportation and Communication under Col Dickson Hermoso, on establishing strong signals of internet connection at community level through the DITO Telecommunity, formerly known as the Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company (Mislatel).

The Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) under Minister Romeo Sema has installed the Tech4ED Center in that Ministry. The tech4ED Center is designed to help deliver relevant services to the region’s job-seekers and young vocational learners through free internet access. MP Sema’s BTA committee should also be lauded for pushing on the passage of the BARMM Overseas Welfare Code.   

I do earnestly ask the full cooperation of our colleagues in the Parliament as we pass very important legislations starting today. On top of these priorities are, of course, the remaining Codes that we have to finish within the original mandate of the Transition Period. We shall work hard in passing the Local Governance Code that will further enhance the horizontal and vertical relations of the LGUs in the Bangsamoro Region. 

The Electoral Code which is probably one of the most sensitive legislation that this Parliament will enact must be carefully crafted to ensure that we put premium to the betterment of the electorate. We must ensure that it will pave the way for a genuine political exercise that shall serve the core of a regular Bangsamoro Government.  We shall transmit this to the Parliament as soon as possible.

The highly technical and equally important Revenue Code is being finalized by the Cabinet Committee led by the Ministry of Finance, Budget, and Management. Rest assured that this, too, will be transmitted to the Parliament within the year. 

The Government of the Day remains devoted to the cause of lasting peace. During the past few weeks, there were initiatives to make sure that we stay true to that commitment.

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

Several ministries of the BARMM line agencies have together braced efforts at securing the gains of peace, with a bold step at organizing the First Bangsamoro Peace and Security Summit last month. The activity adopted a whole-of-region approach among key development players and stakeholders for the speedy reconstruction, rehabilitation, and development of conflict-affected communities, particularly in the so-called SPMS box area in Maguindanao. We will make sure that the situation will be contained, so we can collectively preserve the gains of this Peace Process.

We see that one aspect of strong and secured governance is where the center of governance firmly stands and thus is able to serve the people better. So we build Municipal and Barangay Government Centers, as well as construct police station buildings in parts of BARMM where none had ever previously existed. We also maintain healthy relations with the country’s security sector in the locality against extremist forces.  

We are fully aware that there are few people trying to capitalize from this situation to advance their selfish interest. The Bangsamoro has  gone through so much pain and suffering already, and we will continue to do all means necessary not to succumb to the threats imposed by a few. Let us all move forward to the path of peace.

Last May 23, we also commemorated the Fourth Year of the Marawi Siege. To reiterate my message on this event, tens of thousands are still displaced, and layers of challenges are piling up, exacerbated by the current health crisis.

This painful experience cannot allow us, in any given day, to turn our back to our Maranao brothers and sisters. This is the very reason why we have consistently pushed for the rehabilitation of Marawi as part of our priority agenda and overall development goal.

As of May 2021, the BARMM leadership has approved for its part of the Marawi Rehabilitation Program a total of Php 947, 510, 362 worth of projects, ranging from livelihood assistance, resettlement housing projects, healthcare services, cash-for-work, water, sanitation, and hygiene projects, and other infrastructure projects. 

We have also recently signed a partnership worth 400 million pesos with the Provincial LGU of Lanao Del Sur for the upgrading of the Marawi Water System to provide adequate water supply to the city’s 40 barangays. We sincerely hope that these projects will help Marawi regain its former glory. 

Cognizant of the fact that for us to bring the Bangsamoro to its rightful place, we need the strong partnership and commitment of our local government units towards the social transformation we envision. Such commitment is exemplified in our PARSUGPATAN with the Province of Tawi-Tawi. Earlier this year, the Regional Government launched flagship programs, and inaugurated all completed projects, providing them as well with updates from our workings in the Transition Period. 

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

We inaugurated the Regional Fisheries Research Center and Regional Farm in partnership with the Mindanao State University – Tawi-Tawi. This collaboration aims to boost the fisheries, seaweeds and other wet market products which will translate to high-income of fisherfolks and seaweed farmers. In the long run, we envision Tawi-Tawi to become the center of fishing industry in the region.  

At least 25 Million worth of healthcare facilities and health supplies including a sea ambulance, two land ambulances, and a Disinfection Chamber were turned over to IPHO Tawi-Tawi. These are on top of the existing medical programs and assistance we are providing to support our health workers. 

A total of 5,000 armchairs with around 1,300 teacher’s kits, 2,000 learners’ kits and 22,000 learning materials were likewise turned over by the MBHTE as we further improve the education services. 

Various infrastructure projects were also inaugurated such as the two-storey dormitory to be built by the Ministry of Public Works in MSU Tawi-Tawi, 400 housing units worth 200 million for indigent displaced families and returning Filipinos from Sabah (REFS) under the Bangsamoro Housing Assistance Program (BAHAY Program) of the Ministry of Social Services and Development.

We have also signed an agreement for the construction of 1,000 housing units under the KAPYANAN Program. This is extra special to the Bangsamoro People as the housing design is tailored fit to the needs and socio-cultural context of the beneficiary communities. 

Ladies and gentlemen, these are just some of the major programs and projects of the BARMM for Tawi-Tawi. Similar or equitable projects and programs are also in place for the other Provinces in the region. We look forward to bringing the programs to more areas when the situation eases up from the current levels of COVID19 pandemic charts that continue to hamper our everyday lives.

We are happy that the Department of Health of the National Government has upheld the BARMM Ministry of Health in a shared data showing the autonomous region “has been the least affected by the pandemic of all Mindanao’s six regions,” as noted by an online publication notably critical of the government.

Quoting from that report, “The region accounted for only 7.7% of the COVID-19 cases in Mindanao since 2020 as of June 5. As of Wednesday (June 15), it (BARMM) registered a total of 7,910 cases and 289 COVID-19 deaths since last year, with 114 newly-documented infections and 919 active cases that day,” the article says, unquote. 

Construction of isolation facilities are either completed at the Cotabato Sanitarium Hospital in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao; or are on-going in Sulu Provincial Hospital; in Datu Halun Sakilan Hospital in Tawi-Tawi; in Amai Pakpak Memorial Medical Center in Lanao del Sur; and in Basilan Provincial Hospital. The Bangsamao Autonomous Government through this Parliament is also modernizing the 110-year old Sulu Hospital and the Buluan District Hospital in Maguindanao.

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

Also on COVID19, allow me also to share important updates regarding our vaccination program in the region. As of June 13, 2021, 19,831 of the 21,451 or 92 percent of our A1 priority, the frontline health workers have already received at least the first dose of vaccine, 46 percent of them have completed their inoculation. The vaccination for the A2, A3, and A4 priority groups is on-going. We have administered a total of 53,365 of the 78,800 shots available. We are assured of the continuous supply of vaccine as we work hard in reaching our target of vaccinating, at least 70 percent of our population to attain the herd immunity.  

We encourage everyone to get their vaccines as soon as possible. As representatives of various communities from all over the region, fellow Members of the Parliament, I ask that you continue helping us in championing the vaccination program because these are not just doses that can prevent COVID-19, but doses of hope that we may get back the life that we once knew.

Our sincere appreciation goes to all our health warriors and other frontline workers for their services and sacrifices in this war against COVID19. Maraming maraming Salamat po.  May Allah reward you for your good deeds.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are a diverse group of people here in the Bangsamoro Region, united by the common aspirations to address the historical injustices, put an end to various forms of violence, and to bring genuine peace and development through universally accepted norms of aspiration for the Right to Self-Determination. This cannot be done overnight but what we can do now is to build the structures of governance and pass legislation that will enable our children to live better in a Bangsamoro Region that we can all cherish together as one united people.

We, too, have our share of malicious critiques. A group claiming to espouse good governance peddles its false story to news organizations in Manila that we tend to have over-appropriated for “ballpens and papers” --based on how one could at worse misconstrue financial preparation of offices engaged in relief works for social welfare and the delivery of healthcare services for which “welfare goods” are bought with a budgetary provision called “Supplies and Materials.”

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

And lest we forget, the Metro Cotabato Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the concurrent leadership of MP Narciso “Ongpin” Yu Ekey, who represents the Christian Community along with MP Dr. Susana Anayatin in the BTA Parliament, facilitates space arrangement for this report with the mainstream national print media.  

The Government of the Day shall submit to the Parliament a budget that is responsive to the needs of our people and will enable the region to overcome the pressing challenges that we continue to face such as the COVID19 Pandemic. This will be the third time in which we will collectively approve a budget based on the Block Grant we have struggled for as part of the fiscal autonomy envisioned in both the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and in Bangsamoro Organic Law. It is important to constantly remind ourselves as we deliberate on this budget that behind the figures are the blood, sweat, and tears of our people. As such, we shall continue to allocate and spend them transparently and rightfully.

I trust the collective wisdom of this Parliament as we likewise prioritize laws for certain sectors of our society. We shall work on the legislation that will protect and promote the rights of the Indigenous People, pursuant to the intent of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. I have tasked the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs to work hard and lead this priority. 

Also, the Government of the Day shall submit to this Parliament the Bangsamoro Children’s Code that will further safeguard our children’s rights. After all, what we are doing here in the BTA is for our children and our children’s future. I trust that with the proven stewardship of the Minister of Social Services and Development who is also our Assistant Majority Floor Leader, this will be passed as soon as possible.

We shall also prioritize the enactment of a Bangsamoro Labor Code that will protect the workers in the region and ensure that both the employee and employers will not be subjected to abuse and unfair treatment. This is even more important considering that the BARMM is turning services-oriented, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. 

But this is not to say that we will veer away from the other important aspects of our economy. We must continue to support our farmers and fisherfolks in providing them better opportunities and favorable conditions. Let us pass a law that will enable agriculture and fisheries to prosper. I tasked the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Agrarian Reform to make this happen.

We must take advantage of the generally better atmosphere of peace and security by attracting more investors in the region. As a matter of fact, in 2019 we were off to a great start when we were able to register 2.3 billion pesos worth of investments, surpassing our targets by 180 percent. It is just unfortunate that covid19 did not spare this momentum, but I am hopeful that by passing legislation that will further boost investment, confidence, and incentives, we can put the region back on track.

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

Islamic Finance is gaining grounds in the world. Some experts even say that this is the future of finance and banking. We in the Bangsamoro must ensure that we make this potential a reality in our region alongside with the promotion of Halal industry. As such, a comprehensive framework for the Promotion and Development of Islamic Finance and a Halal Economy in the BARMM shall likewise be prioritized in the succeeding months.

Recognizing the performance of our Local Government Units is essential in fostering an environment where innovation, efficiency, and hard work are incentivized. I passionately believe that some of the best practices when it comes to local governance can be found in the Bangsamoro region. It is about time that we make this known and have it institutionalized for the years to come through a legislation towards this end.

It is widely known that the Bangsamoro is rich in energy sources. While we do have a Ministry that has the primary mandate over these in the Bangsamoro, it must be further strengthened through a legislation that will enable the region to benefit from its resources with a sustainable and mutually beneficial framework. If done the right way, these can leapfrog the Bangsamoro to a progressive and developed region.

We must also look into the existing structures in our bureaucracy as founded by the recently passed Bangsamoro Administrative Code. It would be worthwhile to pass legislations, not amending certain provisions of the Administrative Code, but legislations that would enhance or complement few of its noble provisions. 

I would like to share with you that although there are bureaucratic challenges along the way – the call for the extension of the Transition Period has never been more resounding, than it is now.

We reiterate, especially to the naysayers, that the extension of the transition period is never about power. It is about ensuring the successful implementation of the Bangsamoro Peace Process.

This is not just the legacy of the MILF or of the Administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, but is the legacy of this generation and a gift to the next generations of the Bangsamoro.

Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot afford to fail them. 

We must do everything for the sake of the Bangsamoro and submit to the Will and Plan of Allah. After all, as mentioned in Surat Al-’Anfāl of the Holy Quran 8:30, Allah is the Best Planner.

وَإِذْ يَمْكُرُ بِكَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لِيُثْبِتُوكَ أَوْ يَقْتُلُوكَ أَوْ يُخْرِجُوكَ ۚ وَيَمْكُرُونَ وَيَمْكُرُ اللَّهُ ۖ وَاللَّهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ

And [remember, O Muḥammad], when those who disbelieved plotted against you to restrain you or kill you or evict you [from Makkah]. But they plan, and Allāh Plans. And Allāh is the Best of Planners.

Shaping up a historic model in bilateral peace process

With all these being said, I hope that we continue serving our people with passion, sincere intentions, and in remembrance of those who sacrificed for all of us. The Bangsamoro story shall continue to be told and we are the authors of its most crucial chapters. 

Topics: Bangsamoro Transition Authority , Interim Regional Government , Mohagher Iqbal
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