88.57 percent of the Bangsamoro people ratified the Bangsamoro Organic Law on 19 January 2019. This is overwhelmingly and incontrovertibly, clearly a validation and mandate from the Bangsamoro people to have and be with the new Bangsamoro Regional Government. To say that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) does not have the mandate is to fail to understand why the plebiscite was held in the first place. What was adopted by the Bangsamoro people is the organic law which explicitly provides for the mechanism and process of transition, which includes the fundamental mechanism that is the BTA. If the argument is that the BTA does not have the “democratic” mandate, then whatever it does and contingent to it cannot be considered legitimate.
Supporting and advocating for democracy and participation is not only right, it is needed, especially with many who remain satisfied with just being fence-sitters. Supporting and advocating democracy should however include all necessary conditions to ensure its success, including the integral mechanism and procedural components. And this is precisely why the transition is an important component of the peace agreement and the law itself. To me, it raises more questions than answers if one is arguing for democracy and mainly if not only pushing for people’s participation, for example, elections. Sadly, this is often the case. The intent no doubt is well-meaning, but without the necessary components of a functioning democracy, the system necessary to contain political power that includes the power of the people, partisan interest can and will take advantage. It can even lead to anarchy.
No doubt, the call to extend the ongoing transition to the new regional government of the Bangsamoro Region is not a simple issue and requires thorough consideration. If the decision will be based on objective assessment however, any and all considerations will only lead to the necessity of extending the work of the BTA. Understanding the transition government alone can already answer the question why the elections for regional posts cannot proceed as originally planned.
BTA as its name implies is tasked with two synchronous words as these are interdependent objectives and components of the transition. The first is transition itself, which entails moving from the previous Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). This moving from ARMM to BARMM entails a lot of work, from adapting ARMM institutions to BARMM, retrofitting the same, putting in place the right mechanisms and processes, which explains the need to fast-track the passing of the needed regional laws to accomplish the transition to the new regional government, to hiring the right people to get the regional government running as smoothly and effectively as possible and ultimately putting in place a working new regional government.
One cannot imagine the enormity of the transition work, and this is only one part of the work of the BTA. If the transition only calls for the absorption of additional powers afforded by law, it would be easier. This means that essentially, the work is only a matter of augmenting the existing offices and mechanisms of the previous regional government, but this is far from what is enjoined.
BARMM is designed, and rightly so, according to what is purportedly appropriate to the history and unique social and political conditions in the region. The kind of institutions it requires are remarkably different from its predecessor, the ARMM. This is what has been provided in the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro (FAB) having fully weighed on the limitations of the previous regional government and the peace agreement that served as its basis. This is therefore carried over in RA 11054, which is the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). This is also but consistent with what the regional government is supposed to be as a meso (mid) level government. It is not supposed to be the same as existing local government units (LGUs) as is clearly provided in the 1987 Constitution.
The other objective of the BTA is administration is to take over the work of governance as it takes the place of the ARMM. While doing all that is required to ensure a successful transition, it is supposed to maintain order in the region and promote its development. This is of course fitting; the new regional government has to show its worth to its people. It serves as a confidence building opportunity for the new regional government, to popularize it, so that it becomes not only familiar to the people but also appreciate it enough to know the difference from its predecessor. Both mandates or objectives of the BTA are mutually reinforcing and at times hindering, depending on the regional government’s ability to effectively work and balance the demands of both.
We are then left with two questions to consider in rightly deciding whether to extend the term of the BTA or not. First, we have to ask, is 3 years, that is from 2019 to 2022, enough to complete the transition? The answer to this however would depend significantly from where one sits. We can just assume, at least for purposes of this discussion, that three years is enough to complete the transition. Then we have to note some important points it this regard.
The BTA started its work on 19 March 2019, almost 2 years now. The BTA started operating 2 years back but with resources and assumptions based on its predecessor. Of course, this is but expected; the 2019 budget was formulated based on what was still existing the year before that. The implication then is that the BTA has to start its two-fold mandate based only on what the previous regional government’s requirement as it used to perform its job to govern. The work of transition therefore can hardly be factored in the first year; the resources to perform that mandate is simply not factored in the preparation of the 2019 budget.
Apart from this important consideration, the reconfiguring of the new regional government’s territory was completed only in the turnover of Cotabato City last December 2020. This is an equally important factor. No development or even security strategy can be complete without Cotabato City, which means it is only now that these can be formulated.
We haven’t even mentioned the pandemic that, needless to say severely crippled the operations of any institution or organization, public and private. Since 16 March 2020, the whole country has been in quarantine. Even if we argue that the state of quarantine varies from one province or LGU to another, the point still is that all operations have been subject to a virtual standstill. Apart from the difficulty getting in things done, especially in the field, the implements required to do the same have become considerably difficult to come by.
Given all these, even if with the assumption that three years is enough for the transition, the point is that there is simply no three years to consider in the first place. Despite all these crippling conditions however, BARMM has been able to do so much of what has been expected of it. The second question then is whether th MILF is the only party that can complete the transition. The answer could not be more obvious: the transition cannot be done without the MILF.
The enactment of the BOL and the creation of BARMM is a result of painstaking negotiations between the MILF and the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). There is no other party that is in a position to put all the components in place to complete the transition other than the one that negotiated it in the first place. This is, in fact, one important factor that was lacking in the previous peace agreements and regional government transitions.
Before the transition, that is, the creation and institutionalization of needed mechanisms and processes are completed, a new leadership is hurriedly put in place. Like clockwork, the direction and priorities of the new political leadership is changed, just like how it is when leadership changes at the national level and in any LGU in the country. This is the overall political system at work, preventing any continuity in policy and developmental direction, the very malady that is supposed to be addressed by the new political and governance system put in place in BARMM. The original intent of the agreement in previous peace negotiations is then never successfully realized as the required process is never completed.
BTA has to be given enough time to complete its work. This work includes ensuring that when the time comes that regional elections can be held, the necessary regional laws and mechanisms are all in place. We can then rest assured, not only that regional elections will be freely, fairly and adequately conducted, but more than that, the ultimate objective of putting in place new politics, effectively doing away with the brand of politics as it has always been before, can now be reasonably expected.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.