COTABATO CITY (14 MAY 2024) —As the Bangsamoro Parliament opened its third regular session on Tuesday, May 14, it entered the final year of the transition period before the first regular Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) elections are held in 2025.

Amidst the challenges the interim BARMM government has faced since its creation in 2019, its officials, as well counterparts in the national government, are confident that the remaining legislative measures pending before the Parliament will be passed before the deadline.

Bangsamoro Wali Sheikh Muslim Guiamaden officially commenced the session with the bang of the gong.

“The Bangsamoro people are calling on the Parliament to prioritize and strive on crafting law shaping to unify the perspective of leaders toward the aspiration to moral governance,” Guiamaden said in his speech.

“Our beloved ministers, formulation and adopting of equitable and quality services are essential to the vulnerable sector, especially to the previous conflict-affected areas,” he added.

Based on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the charter of the BARMM, the Wali is the ceremonial head of the regional government. His duties include inaugurating parliament sessions, administering oaths of office and attending public events.

The first Bangsamoro Wali, Sheikh Khalifa Nando, died on Feb. 6, 2023, at 82. He was among the founders of the MILF.

Passage of priority codes

Speaker Atty. Pangalian Balindong reaffirmed the Parliament’s commitment to finalizing its priority codes and other measures to strengthen the state of governance in the BARMM in preparation for the assumption of office of the duly-elected Bangsamoro government.

Highlighting the Parliament’s achievements, Balindong reported the passage of 58 major legislative measures that aim to improve the delivery of administrative, civil service, education, and local governance services.

BARMM Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim reported on the milestones achieved by the Bangsamoro government, as he outlined its priority agenda for its final year.

According to Ebrahim, there were observers who said that the Bangsamoro Organic Law would not be enacted and “let alone have the Bangsamoro Government and the BTA established.”

But the MILF leadership proved its critics wrong, with the passage of the BOL and the creation of the BARMM, as the Bangsamoro government is now “writing the last chapter of the transition period and preparing for the first parliamentary elections.”

“First semester poverty incidence in the region was at 55.9 percent in 2018, during the then- ARMM. In 2021, this dropped to 39.4 percent making BARMM the region with the most significant reduction in poverty incidence among families. in 2023, we were able to sustain this momentum with a reported 34.8 percent, a 5 percent reduction from the previous period,” Ebrahim said in his speech.

He emphasized their efforts to finalize the Revenue and Indigenous Peoples’ Codes that are currently under deliberation.

“We have already passed five priority codes. The remaining two codes, namely the Bangsamoro Revenue Code and the Bangsamoro Indigenous People’s Code were already submitted to this August body. I am delighted that these are now in the second reading. And it is our fervent hope that these be enacted as soon as possible,” Ebrahim stressed.

The chief minister called on Members of Parliament for the swift passage of the legislative measures that will greatly benefit the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors.

Ebrahim said that the BARMM Parliament is also determined to fast track the passage of the Bangsamoro Budget System Act, Bangsamoro Investment Code, and the Charter of the Bangsamoro Development Corporation.

“This is the last full year of the transition period. Let us make the most out of the opportunity given to us. Let us continue to serve the Bangsamoro with pure hearts and sincere intentions,” he emphasized.

The 80-member BTA, which is being led by the MILF, will end its term of office on June 30, 2025 after which, the elected Bangsamoro government will assume the reins of power.

National Government support

Less than a year before the holding of the first parliamentary elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. warned those planning to derail the process that they would face full force of the law.

The President also emphasized that the BTA’s transition period will no longer be extended.

He issued the warning in Maguindanao del Norte, where he graced the commemoration of the 10th year signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and the MILF, which was forged in 2014 after 17 years of peace negotiations.

He said the CAB is an “ongoing pursuit of peace” that should not be hinged on whims or depend on where the political wind is blowing.

“I also take this opportunity to remind you to exercise your right to suffrage as you chart your political future in the forthcoming first BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) elections in May 2025,” the President said during his visit to Camp Abubakar in Barira town of Maguindanao del Norte, where he joined the 10th year commemoration of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Marcos said that he will exercise “a strong political will” in ensuring smooth and credible elections in the BARMM, vowing that voters in the region “can freely choose for their future.”

“This is the fulfillment of your democratic right to realize and achieve meaningful autonomy as enshrined in the CAB,” Marcos said. “Safeguard those rights,” he added.

For the groups and individuals aspiring to become Bangsamoro Parliament members, Marcos said: “We expect that you (will) uphold the principles of Bangsamoro muna bago ang sarili (Bangsamoro first before self). Stand for a better Bangsamoro.”

The CAB, the peace deal signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) paved the way for the creation of the BARMM.

Under the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that created the BARMM, the first elections were originally scheduled in 2022. But an amendment in the BOL during the 18th Congress extended the term of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) for another three years and rescheduled the first BARMM elections in 2025.

Galvez: “More than enough”

“The Bangsamoro Parliament has done more than enough,” said Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., in the sidelines of the session.

Galvez highlighted the importance of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), stating, “The signing of the CAB marked a historic journey for the government and the MILF, bringing us closer to our shared goal of fostering greater peace, development and stability in the region.”

“The path we’ve taken since the agreement has dramatically transformed the socioeconomic and sociopolitical landscape of the Bangsamoro region and the rest of Mindanao,” he stressed.

Galvez underscored the importance of genuine and lasting peace, saying, “The agreement has paved the way for a future that is filled with hope and the promise of a better life for the Bangsamoro people and all Filipinos. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but also the presence of justice, opportunity and understanding. We must nurture and defend this peace, build bridges where walls once stood, and forge a path of progress that honors the sacrifices of Bangsamoro brothers and sisters to build a better and brighter tomorrow.” ###