“The establishment of the BARMMM is the product of a long process of peace negotiations to end the fighting between government troops and Muslim separatists”
At the outset, it should be pointed out that in his State of the Nation Address last Monday, President Marcos Jr. made no mention at all of the situation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or BARMM.
Perhaps that can be excused, as the call of the hour is to focus on economic recovery.
But the lack of any policy pronouncement from the national government on what it intends to do with the BARMM in the next six years is unfortunate, as it remains one of the poorest regions in the country and poverty, as we know, breeds discontent and even rebellion.
The establishment of the BARMMM is the product of a long process of peace negotiations to end the fighting between government troops and Muslim separatists.
To this day, there’s a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters or BIFF that has aligned with the Islamic State and seeks to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate based in Mindanao.
That Mindanao remains a powder keg amid widespread poverty makes it imperative for the national government to strengthen the BARMM structure for self-governance.
A step in the right direction is getting the 7,148 former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who have passed National Police Commission’s Special Qualifying Eligibility Examination to join the Philippine National Police.
They are among the 11,033 who took the exams held in the cities of Cotabato and Lamitan on May 29.
“We are very grateful that we have a high passing rate for the qualifying exam, and we are very happy because the sacrifice of our applicants has paid off,” according to Mohd Asnin Pendatun, BARMM Cabinet Secretary.
The recruitment of former rebels as regular policemen is part of their reintegration into the social mainstream contained in the 2014 peace deal between the government and the MILF.
A similar program was also done by the government following the peace deal with the MNLF in 1996, which provided for the integration of some 5,750 of its members into the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
If the former rebels are able to pass the selection stages, they can be accorded temporary appointment as police officer.
A permanent appointment can be secured if they obtained a bachelor’s degree, a requirement that they have up to 15 years to comply upon entry into service.
The BARMM facilitated review classes to improve the applicants’ chances of passing it.
“The entry of qualified MILF and MNLF members into the PNP will help realize the meaningful transformation process for these former combatants, and is a testament of our collective aspiration of bringing a just and lasting peace to the region and to the whole country,” said presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.
While the recruitment of former MILF rebels as regular cops is a positive development, just as pressing for enhanced autonomy for the Bangsamoro is getting the right people.
That’s what Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman is requesting the new administration to do.
He wants President Marcos Jr. to form a screening committee to vet candidates for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to ensure members are chosen based on “merit, proven competence, and unassailable integrity.”
The BTA is an 80-member body tasked to govern the transition period for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) government until 2025.
The body, composed of 41 members nominated by the MILF and 39 members nominated by the government, is led and dominated by the MILF as mandated by Republic Act 11054, or the Organic Law for the BARMM.
Hataman said BTA members should be competent enough for the post, suggesting they be thoroughly assessed by a panel of “equally competent personalities free from any political influence.”
“We want to ensure that those who will sit in BTA will have enough competence to address all the needs of the Bangsamoro and its residents. So our call is: scrutinize thoroughly all those who will be appointed,” he said.
The Basilan lawmaker emphasized that equitable representation should be one of the main guiding principles in appointing BTA members, saying all areas, ethnicities, and sectors must be represented properly in the BARMM transition government.
“We need to make sure that no one is left behind. This is not BARMM for the few. It is a government of all of Bangsamoro,” the lawmaker stressed.
Meanwhile, it appears that the autonomous government itself faces internal problems.
The family of the late sheik Salamat Hashim, founding chair of the MILF, has decried the emergence of a so-called Salamat Wing within the former rebel group whose units want to become members of the BTA.
Parliament Member Abdullah Hashim, son of the MILF founder, said the family strongly condemned the use of the late Moro revolutionary’s name in sowing intrigues to divide the ranks of the MILF.
Hashim said the creation of the MILF Salamat Wing could also put at risk the peace deal that the government and the MILF signed in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations.
“Our father’s work and legacy have always been for the good of the Bangsamoro and Muslim Ummah (community). It is a great disservice to his legacy and an insult to his family to use his name to sow division, which could lead us away from the promise of peace,” he said.