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BARMM at five: A long way to go, but we’ve come so far


Bangsamoro’y tagumpay. Bunga ng pawis, dugo, at buhay. Kapayapaan, katarungan, Ay atin nang nakamtan. Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Pagpalain, Bangsamoro.”
 
These powerful lines from the Bangsamoro Hymn summarize the triumph of the peace process after decades of struggle for self-determination. On January 21, 2019, five years ago, precisely 1,826 days, the Bangsamoro Organic Law was formally ratified.
 
This marked a new and hopeful chapter in the long journey toward achieving the ever-elusive peace in the southern part of the Philippines.
 
This year, the region commemorates this milestone under the theme: “A Journey Towards Mutual Understanding, Peaceful Co-existence, and a Shared Future in the Bangsamoro.”

Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim emphasized that the Bangsamoro is celebrating five years of vibrant progress and unity at the anniversary kickoff on Sunday, January 21, 2024 in Cotabato City.

Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim delivers his anniversary message on January 21, 2024, in Cotabato City, kickstarting the weeklong celebration of Bangsamoro Foundation Day. (Hamdan Badrudin/BIO)


 
The theme focuses on collective aspirations for a “united, enlightened, self-governing, peaceful, just, morally upright, and progressive Bangsamoro.”
 
He said that in the last five years, the Bangsamoro Government has been navigating its journey towards building an empowered, cohesive, and progressive region.
 
“Building a peaceful and progressive Bangsamoro is indeed a daunting task, but with the help of everyone, we have made remarkable progress during this transition period,” the Chief Minister said, adding that the government is committed and remains steadfast “in our long-held aspiration for our homeland.”
 
Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is the lone region in the country that adopts a parliamentary form of government. It was created after a plebiscite, replacing the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
 

The Bangsamoro seal, featuring the flags of the Bangsamoro Government and the Republic of the Philippines standing side-by-side, is prominently displayed at the Office of the Chief Minister Grounds inside the Bangsamoro Government Center in Cotabato City. (Hamdan Badrudin/BIO)


Ebrahim is serving as the first leader of the interim government until 2025, the year when the region will hold its first regional parliamentary elections.
 
In his leadership, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) has already enacted five priority legislations, covering the administrative, civil service, education, electoral, and local governance codes. This year, the indigenous people’s rights code are expected to be passed.
 
Before 2023 ended, the BTA approved the General Appropriation’s Act for the Bangsamoro amounting to P98.4-billion.
 
With all the aforementioned progress, one might reflect on the line from the BARMM Hymn, ‘Bangsamoro’y tagumpay’.
 
Helen Mae Betito, 35, a Teduray educator and peace advocate from North Upi, Maguindanao del Norte shared her views on BARMM’s interventions in fostering unity and progress in the region.
 
“Sa mga nagdaang limang taon, hindi maikakailang ang laki ng pinagbago ng BARMM. Oo, katumbas ng pamahalaan ang mga suliranin sa pagtataguyod ng kanilang layunin, ngunit para sa akin, ang mga iilang suliranin ay nabigyan ng solusyon, hindi man lahat, pero ito’y maituturing kong napagtagumpayan,” Betito said.
 
[In the past five years, the significant changes in BARMM cannot be denied. Yes, the government addresses the challenges in pursuing its goals, but for me, some of these challenges have found solutions—not all, but I consider it a success.]
 
Talking about co-existence in BARMM, Betito said one of the many interventions of BARMM to unite the people of diverse cultures was the conduct of the annual Tri-People Summit, wherein IPs are being heard and were given the right to lead whether in the Bangsamoro Parliament or in a ministry. Further, settler communities are given opportunities to discuss their welfare.
 
Nakikita naman natin na Tri-People ang nag-uugnay sa BARMM. Magkakaiba-iba man ng pinanggalingan at paniniwala, nagiging isa tayo sa pagkamit ng tagumpay at kapayapaan hindi para lamang sa nagyong henerasyon kundi sa mga darating pang henerasyon,” Betito said.
 
[We can observe that the Tri-People are the ones connecting BARMM. Despite different origins and beliefs, we unite in achieving success and peace, not only for our generation but for the generations to come.]
 
In 2023, the Ministry of the Indigenous Peoples’ Affair (MIPA) spearheaded the crafting of the Indigenous Political Structure of IPs/ICCs in the BARMM to provide a space for the indigenous communities to exercise their juridical rights. This will allow the IP communities to select their leaders based on their existing systems.
 
Moreover, the Ministry provided legal services to other members of the communities in different parts of the Bangsamoro region, aimed at adopting measures for the protection of their rights.
 
Bilang isang IP educator [at] peace advocate, saksi ako sa mga programang ipinatupad ng pamahalaang BARMM. Ang pagkakaroon ng hangarin para sa lahat ng Bangsamoro upang sa gayon ay walang Bangsamorong mapag-iiwanan,” Betito stressed.
 
[As an IP educator and peace advocate, I bear witness to the programs implemented by the BARMM Government. Having the intention to benefit all Bangsamoro ensures that no one among them will be left behind.]
 
As of December 31, 2023, the Bangsamoro Government reported major achievements during its five-year span. [Read related story: YEAR-END REVIEW: Bangsamoro Gov’t champions inclusive, transformative developments in 2023]
 
For Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, one of the barometers in gauging whether the peace dividends are already being felt is through the region’s economic status.
 
“The most significant barometer is the level of our economy because, with peace in place, though not at one hundred percent, as challenges still exist, but due to the peace and people becoming busy, economic activity is on the rise,” he explained.
 
Iqbal is one of the leading figures in the Government of the Philippines (GPH)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Process and the BARMM. For several years, he chaired the MILF Peace Panel that negotiated with the GPH and was also a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to draft the Bangsamoro enabling law.
 
“BARMM is one of the country’s fastest-growing economies. So, that’s one barometer na nagpapakita na ang kapayapaan na natamo natin dahil sa pagpirma natin ng [peace] agreement; nang dahil sa BARMM Government, ay nakikita natin, kalrong klaro na umangat ang kabuhayan ng mga tao,” he continued.
 
[BARMM is one of the country’s fastest-growing economies. So, that’s one indicator showing that the peace we achieved through the signing of the agreement, the BARMM Government, is evident, clearly elevating the livelihoods of the people.]

In an April 2023 report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA-BARMM), results showed that BARMM is the 10th fastest-growing economy in the country. The economic performance of BARMM grew by 6.6 percent in 2022, though slower than the previous year’s growth rate at 7.5 percent, but still increased, indicating good economic performance in the region. [Read related story: BARMM sets a record with the 10th fastest economic growth among all PH regions]
 
When asked whether the Bangsamoro Government succeeded during its five years of existence, the Minister said: “Success is relative. But what’s important here is that we are moving forward, and there are tangible developments that we can see.”
 
Iqbal, who is also a Member of Parliament, acknowledged some of the beneficial impacts of the so-called ‘spoilers’ and ‘detractors’ of the Government of the Day.
 
He said, “To a certain extent, it’s not necessarily bad for others to criticize us. It’s like a mirror; let’s reflect because we may not see our mistakes on our own,” explaining that detractors can be good in assessing the performance of the government.
 
“We are successful. However, there are challenges. Generally, our way forward looks promising,” Iqbal stressed, adding the only way to continue BARMM’s momentum is through peace.
 
“Our only option right now, even in the future, is peace. But it must be accompanied by justice. Because peace is not only about the absence of fighting; it is more than that. Justice is needed. That is the core of BARMM’s policy, Moral Governance—there must be justice.”
 
In the celebration of BARMM’s five years, the Bangsamoro Government Official urged his fellow public servants to strengthen efforts in delivering services for the people.
 
“We have to value and nurture what we have achieved—the BARMM Government. I’m calling my co-government workers; we have to serve the people. And in serving our people, we should have an honest intention that it is also serving Allah. Let us intensify our service to the people,” he concluded.
 
Since its inception, the BARMM has faced various challenges. Despite these challenges, it is filled with hopes and dreams, aspiring to achieve lasting peace and progress—an ambition that, once fully realized, can be considered a “success”.
 
While declaring success within the span of five years, especially for a region like BARMM, might be premature, the Government of the Day remains committed to ensuring the improvement of the living conditions of the Bangsamoro people. As they say, “malayo pa, pero malayo na”.
[A long way to go, but we’ve come so far (Aisah Abas/BIO)

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