‘Give us a chance to succeed’: Bangsamoro officials plead for extended transition period

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Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 22) — While President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed support for the extension of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority's term, this has not been discussed in Congress, with a little more than a year left before the transitional government is dissolved.

In a media briefing on Friday, Bangsamoro officials said it is "impossible" to finish all essential transition works with the little time left, and is appealing for three more years, or until 2025.

"Not because we want to be in power," Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said. "It's not the power in the governance (we are after) but it is the success of the implementation process of the peace agreement."

"Hinihingi namin na bigyan ng lahat ng chance na mag-succeed (We are asking for a chance to succeed)," Ebrahim added.

He said it will be the President's sole prerogative if members of the BTA will be reappointed or replaced once the transition period is extended.

The BTA was created in 2019 after the signing of the law creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, home to minority Muslims fighting for self-determination in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. It was the result of decades-long negotiations between rebel groups in Mindanao, mainly the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the government.

Ebrahim, from the MILF, explained they initially asked for a six-year transition but had to compromise, resulting in the three-year stint. Under the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the first elections under a parliamentary form of government will be held in 2022, along with the national polls.

The region is not ready for a May 2022 elections, the BTA said. For instance, the transitional government is still working on the legislation of five major codes to strengthen the self-governing authority, said Minister of the Interior and Local Government Naguib Sinarimbo. Only one other administrative code has been passed so far, he said.

The Bangsamoro Police Force has not been formed, and private armed groups have yet to be disbanded.

Some 40% of plantilla positions are not yet filled up, he added, but an online job portal has already resulted in over 300,000 applicants.

Ebrahim said majority of the Bangsamoro people support the continued leadership of the transitional government. While there is some opposition, including from Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan II, who previously challenged the Bangsamoro Organic Law before the Supreme Court, more local officials have approved resolutions backing the BTA, he said.

Duterte himself is on the BTA's side, Ebrahim said, citing the assurance the President gave during a previous meeting.

"He said, 'I know that the three years period for transition is very short. I support 100% the extension of your transition period'," Ebrahim recalled the President as saying. Still, passing a law to this effect would depend on Congress, Duterte said. This is the same sentiment announced by Malacañang.

There are now five bills filed at the House of Representatives, most seeking to prolong the BTA's life until 2025. Lawmakers earlier said they will start deliberating on these measures this January.