MANILA (UPDATE) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday led the second anniversary commemoration of the establishment of the Muslim-led Bangsamoro region, which authorities had hoped would boost peace after decades of fighting that had killed thousands and mired the area in poverty.
On Jan. 21, 2019, some 1.74 million voters backed the creation of the Bangsamoro, a self-administered region for the Muslim-dominated parts of Mindanao.
“Two years ago, we have reached this milestone, the realization of our commitment to foster enduring peace and stability in the Bangsamoro,” said Duterte, the first President from the southern Philippines.
"Today, like the rest of the nation, the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) is faced with many daunting challenges aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why I have given marching orders to all relevant government agencies to give full support to the BARMM through continued assistance in the region," he said in a speech before former separatist leaders now leading the Bangsamoro.
The President also expressed his gratitude to the government officials and Bangsamoro leaders for the "strengthened collaboration," which paved the way for the region's development.
"Be assured that this administration would remain determined in its commitment to support self-determination, uphold human rights am advance social welfare in the Bangsamoro region," he said.
After reading his speech, the chief executive asked his "good friends" to "remain loyal for the cause of peace."
The Bangsamoro or "nation of Moros" is the culmination of a tumultuous peace process separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and successive governments, aimed at ending conflict that has killed at least 120,000 people since the 1970s.
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The area is an upgrade of and expansion of the former autonomous setup largely seen as ineffective.
Advocacy groups say historical narratives of neglect and oppression, and a lack of schooling and opportunity, made the region a fertile recruitment ground for militants inspired by Islamic State, like Dawla Islamiya, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Abu Sayyaf, known for bombings, beheading, kidnappings and piracy.
It was hoped that by managing its own affairs, the region would have more power, budget and political will to address the shortfalls, employ more civil servants, and attract more private investment, especially in agriculture and mining.
The autonomous regional government is “not an end, but a continuation of our struggle,” Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim said earlier Thursday.
“It is important to constantly remind ourselves that what we achieved so far is founded on the blood, sweat, and tears of our brethren, our mujahedeens (warriors),” he said in a report to the Bangsamoro.
WHAT HAS BANGSAMORO ACHIEVED?
The region tallied P4.153 billion worth of investments in 2019, which translated to some 2,700 jobs, said Ebrahim. The BARMM also exceeded its target of generating P2.3 billion in investment projects by 180 percent, he said.
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy also collected P306 million in revenue in 2019, tripling the P101-million highest collection of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that the Bangsamoro replaced, said its leader.
A project that aims to bring government services to residents has reached 417,398 people. The region has also assisted 9,219 patients through its 11 partner hospitals, Ebrahim said.
The Bangsamoro earmarked P500 million for the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi, which Islamic State sympathizers laid siege to in 2017, he added.
The regional government also set aside an initial P500 million for vaccines against COVID-19, Ebrahim said.
“We shall continue to prioritize programs that have direct impact to the everyday lives of our people.”
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority led by Ebrahim will govern until elections in 2022 for an 80-seat legislature, which will choose a chief minister.
The body is seeking an extension of the region’s transition period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which deprived them of time to carry out programs and services.