Catholic Orlando Quevedo, archbishop emeritus of Cotabato in the southern Philippines, has expressed support for the extension of the transition period for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“The reasons are indisputable,” he said, citing the pandemic that “made it impossible for the [transition body] to have regular face-to-face sessions.”
The prelate said security issues posed by radical armed groups also prevented freedom of travel for officials of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to perform their tasks.
“The constraints of time are simply insurmountable,” said Cardinal Quevedo, who backed proposals to extend the term of the transition body to 2025.
The mandate of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will expire on June 30, 2022.
“The Bangsamoro Transition Authority will surely not be able to complete its mandate within the period of transition,” said the cardinal.
The retired prelate said several major issues in the fledging Bangsamoro region have yet to be resolved, including the status of private sectarian education, the decommissioning process involving members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the setting up of the Office of Settler Communities, and the demarcation of the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples, among others.
Cardinal Quevedo said it is not possible to establish within the allotted transition period “a new political culture” within the Bangsamoro that would be ruled by the principles of “transparency, accountability and efficiency.”
He said the national elections in 2022 “would simply erode whatever fragile gains” the transition body would have obtained during the period.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao turned two years old on January 21 after it was created in 2019 following the ratification of the Organic Law for the BARMM, popularly known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
The law is anchored on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Former rebel chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, now Bangsamoro interim chief minister, said the autonomous government is “not an end, but a continuation of the Bangsamoro struggle.”
He said the establishment of the autonomous region for Muslims “is a product of the sacrifices and pains of the mujahedeens and communities for the sake of the struggle.”
“It is important to constantly remind ourselves that what we achieved so far is founded on the blood, sweat, and tears of our brethren,” said Ebrahim who also called for the extension of the transition period.
He said the transition period is too short to implement the provisions of the peace deal, including the normalization track that involves the transformation of armed fighters into productive members of mainstream society.
President Rodrigo Duterte has earlier expressed support for the extension of the transition period.
Archbishop Quevedo said the Church fully supports the peace process in the region, adding that he was praying that the country’s legislators will approve the proposal to extend the transition period.