PASIG CITY – The Support to Bangsamoro Transition (SUBATRA) Project, an innovative foreign-funded initiative, is making significant headway in improving governance systems, practices and policies, as well as empowering civil society in the Bangsamoro region.

This was the consensus during the 3rd SUBATRA Project Steering Committee meeting held virtually on Monday, October 10, which was attended by representatives from the national and Bangsamoro governments, civil society and the international donor community.

The SUBATRA is a 5-year program funded by the European Union, and co-financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), through an agreement with the Government of the Philippines.

The project “contributes to a smooth and timely undertaking of the transition through capacity building of the three branches of the Bangsamoro Government (executive, legislative and judicial) and civil society organizations.”

Support from dev’t partners

Violeta Dominguez, head of Spanish Cooperation, noted that, “Change takes time to make an impact. I believe that one of the lessons learned this year has been the standardization, understanding and team work of all stakeholders here.”

Dominguez underscored that “coordination has been the key,” as well as the exchange of views and best strategies among stakeholders and their close “coordination through the identification of actions” to achieve the objectives of the SUBATRA Project.

“I congratulate the technical teams and all the institutions present for their work and commitment with and for the entire population in the Bangsamoro,” she said, while reaffirming her organization’s continued commitment to support SUBATRA’s implementation.

Christoph Wagner, head of cooperation of the European Delegation to the Philippines, pointed out that “After more than three years of implementation of SUBATRA, we have seen this year such…progress.”

“One of the reasons behind [SUBATRA’s success] is the strong ownership of the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) and the population in the BARMM…and national counterparts. And also, the enhanced coordination between the partners,” Wagner said.

“We can see for the first time, [a] consolidated joint action plan covering all components of the program. This is a clear signal of much closer coordination. For us, it’s a flagship program,” he added.

Building BARMM’s capacity for good governance

Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim thanked the BARMM government’s partners for their invaluable support, as we “chart the course of the final two years of the [SUBATRA] program.”

In particular, Ebrahim lauded the “national government and steadfast development partners, the European Union and the Spanish Cooperation, for their unwavering commitment to the transition phase of the Bangsamoro government over the past three years.”

“We have achieved remarkable progress over the past three years and I firmly believe that the SUBATRA Program has played a significant role in ensuring progress and timely transition,” he said.

Ebrahim pointed out that the BTA Parliament Secretariat has made significant progress across various parliamentary disciplines, which include committee affairs, legislative intricacies, information management, policy research and legal services, among others.

According to the chief minister, the Parliament Secretariat, through SUBATRA, has developed the capacity to effectively carry out Parliamentary functions, leading to the passage of priority codes as contained in the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

“Notably, in March 2023, the BTA Parliament approved the Bangsamoro Electoral Code and just a few weeks ago, the Bangsamoro Local Government Code passed its third and final reading,” Ebrahim said.

These interventions, he said, has helped enhance the capability of various offices within the office of the Chief Minister, line ministries and other agencies, and at the same time, empowered the BTA Parliament to craft and scrutinize legislative measures.

“Through SUBATRA’s interventions, executive offices have been empowered to finetune [their initiatives] with greater efficiency, thanks to the development execution and enhancement of their manuals of operation on strategic plans,” Ebrahim said.

In the justice sector, he said SUBATRA has assisted the BARMM government in advancing its tri-justice system and fostering constructive discussions and dialogues to articulate the Bangsamoro justice system.

“SUBATRA has championed the capacity-building of civil society organizations, enabling them to be integral partners in realizing a peaceful transition,” Ebrahim said, as he cited the key role of civil society in enhancing governance in the region.

Multi-pronged impact

Presidential Peace Adviser Sec. Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. commended the SUBATRA team, led by its SuBATRA project management office head Engr. Mohajirin Ali, for the outstanding work it has done since it was launched three years ago.

“The activities you have carried out to strengthen the capacities for good governance of the BARMM executive offices, enhance the legislative functions of the BTA parliament, and improve the functions of the Bangsamoro justice system have made a significant impact,” Galvez said.

“With the passage of key legislation, the strengthening of the BARMM judiciary, and the greater involvement of civil society organizations in matters of governance, we believe the region is on its way to realizing meaningful autonomy and achieving its economic potential,” he added.

To sustain the gains of SUBATRA’s various initiatives, Galvez emphasized the need to assess SUBATRA’s work plan for the remaining months of this year until 2024 to ensure that it will continue to be responsive to emerging realities.

“Let us remain focused on our main goal, and that is, to build the capacity of the BTA to function as a highly-effective and efficient transition government,” Galvez said, as he reminded everyone that the first regular BARMM elections will be held two years from now.

He explained that sustaining the implementation of SUBATRA’s initiatives will ensure “that we continue to lay the foundations of good, responsive and people-centered moral governance in the BARMM, and build on the gains we have achieved in the Bangsamoro.”

“Rest assured that OPAPRU will fully support SUBATRA, as our agencies work together to build the capacity of the BARMM government to be a beacon of genuine peace and sustainable development in the region,” Galvez said. ###