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Analysts urge Duterte to push extension of Bangsamoro council

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte should push lawmakers to extend the terms of Bangsamoro Region in Muslim Mindanao officials to prevent the armed conflict there from intensifying, political analysts said.

The President, who is from Mindanao, should certify as urgent several bills seeking to extend the life of the Bangsamoro Transition Council for three more years, Marlon M. Villarin, a political science professor from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), said by telephone on Sunday

“That is the pragmatic thing to do right now since Congress has few sessions left before it adjourns this year,” he added.

Congress adjourns indefinitely on June 4. The first regular elections for the Bangsamoro Parliament is set for May 2022.

Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim on Friday warned that splinter Muslim rebel groups might increase their resistance if the government fails to extend the council’s term until 2025.

He said the council needs more time to implement the region’s programs, including bringing Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters back to civilian life. It also seeks to win over more armed groups in southern Philippines.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law that took effect in 2019 established the new autonomous region that replaced the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It was meant to increase Mindanao’s share in the country’s resources.

Once their terms are extended, Mr. Duterte should consider appointing people from other rebel factions to dissuade them from overthrowing the autonomous government, Mr. Villarin said.

Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines (UP), said she also supports the extension. “There is a limited time but we have to consult the people, peace builders and other stakeholders in Bangsamoro areas,” she said by telephone.

While Congress debates on the extension, Bangsamoro officials should consult local leaders and other splinter groups so the peace deal doesn’t go to waste, she added.

“There are what we call spoilers of the peace process,” Ms. Atienza said. “These spoilers do not only include factionalist rebel groups, but also politicians in Mindanao who don’t want to be part of the Bangsamoro. They also don’t want the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to be running the Bangsamoro government.”

“If they are going to postpone the elections, they should consult the people,” she said. “We want the peace process because the area has suffered for a long time. MILF members of the council also need to prove that they can run a government,” she added.

Ms. Atienza said the public should be skeptical about moves to postpone the elections in the Bangsamoro region since politicians might use this to push the postponement of national and local elections next year.

Some politicians might also use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to defer the polls, she added.

Samira A. Gutoc-Tomawis, who heads a group representing evacuees, urged the government to look at systemic problems that have plagued Mindanao for decades.

The National Government should also investigate corruption allegations against Bangsamoro officials, she said by telephone. “Congress, and other institutions can investigate while talks on the extension are ongoing.”

Basilan Rep. Mujiv S. Hataman has sought a probe after allegations of corruption including “anomalous disbursements” in the region’s infrastructure projects worth P107 billion.

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