Asia - Pacific

Philippines: Bangsamoro begins anniversary celebrations

We have achieved genuine autonomy that encapsulates the long history of the Bangsamoro people, says autonomous region head

Riyaz Ul Khaliq   | 18.01.2021
Philippines: Bangsamoro begins anniversary celebrations


The Bangsamoro autonomous region in the southern Philippines began its week-long founding anniversary on Monday, raising its flag at the government headquarters.

"We can now proudly say that we have achieved genuine autonomy that encapsulates the long history of the Bangsamoro people -- our sacrifices and our shared vision for the next generation," said Chief Minister Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim during the flag-raising ceremony at the Bangsamoro Government Center in Cotabato City.

Besides the chief minister, his Cabinet, also known as the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), and 15 employees from each of its ministries and offices attended the event held amid strict protocols to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was created after the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in 2018.

Later in early 2019, it was ratified through a plebiscite as a result of two-decades-long peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippines government.

Last year, the BARMM passed the Bangsamoro Administrative Code, which marks Jan. 21 as the Bangsamoro Foundation Day and declared it a non-working holiday.

Ceremonies will be held across the Muslim-majority region with nearly five million population at local government units and schools.

The chief minister will also distribute aid and wheelchairs while regional disaster vehicles and equipment will also be delivered as part of the celebrations.

The Ebrahim-led government will also sign an executive order on launching the Salam Bangsamoro program to provide livelihood assistance to 10,000 former combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) who returned to the BARMM.

- Extension of transition period

In November last year, the Philippine Presidency said it would "review the proposed resolution of the BTA urging [Philippine] Congress to extend the Bangsamoro transition period from 2022 to 2025."

The statement had come after Ebrahim and his BARMM officials met President Rodrigo Duterte.

For his part, Ebrahim "expressed support" for the resolution.

"Both parties need time," said Huseyin Oruc, the deputy president of Istanbul-based IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation), at an online conference by the Bangsamoro Third-Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) last month.

"The MILF is a revolutionary group and [they] are not politicians. It is the first time they came to government and it will take them more time to change the MILF from revolutionary [group] to government," he added.

In its latest assessment report, the TPMT said the Bangsamoro peace process in the Philippines was "fundamentally" on track, though the pandemic had delayed the proper implementation of agreements between the central government and autonomous region.

The IHH is a member of the TPMT.

The TPMT was formed in 2013 in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, to monitor the implementation of peace agreements signed between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants.

Last week, BARMM officials held discussions with officials from Philippine national agencies and Congress on extending the transition period until up to 2025 to allow the interim Bangsamoro government to fully implement its mandate.

- Autonomous government

In 2019, a historic referendum was held on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 in southern Mindanao, granting autonomy to Moro Muslims.

On Feb. 26, Ebrahim took his post from the central government's regional governor in an official ceremony.

He was appointed by President Duterte to administer the BTA through to 2022, when the transition process is expected to end.

With comprehensive autonomy, Muslims will be free in their internal affairs, being able to establish and administer courts of Islamic law within their jurisdiction and manage their surrounding waters jointly with the central government.

They will be bound to the Philippines in foreign policy, though with some flexibility.

In addition, former fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front, as well as those from the MILF will be eligible to join the official armed forces.

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