Philippine Leader Backs Term Extension for Transitional Authority in Autonomous Muslim Region

Dennis Jay Santos
Davao, Philippines
2020-12-07
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Philippine Leader Backs Term Extension for Transitional Authority in Autonomous Muslim Region Murad Ebrahim, then chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, gestures during a press conference on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Jan. 21, 2019.
[AFP]

President Rodrigo Duterte backs former guerrilla leader Murad Ebrahim’s request to extend the tenure of the transition government in an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines by three years, his spokesman said Monday.

Congress, however, would have to agree to prolong the term of the transitional authority in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that is due to end in 2022, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.

“The president is supportive, sympathetic. But it is beyond his jurisdiction because Congress will have to make the decision to amend the law,” Roque said.

However, he said Duterte would likely endorse an extension as a priority measure because he “wants to help the transition” authority.

Murad, as head of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, leads the interim government in five provinces and a handful of districts that make up the autonomous region.

On Friday, he told BenarNews that he needed his term extended to put in place reforms required before BARMM voters elect their own government in 2022. He said he had recently asked Duterte for an extension of his term till 2025. 

“The president’s advice [to Murad] is to talk to lawmakers. I specifically know that he singled out the senators from Mindanao that those from Bangsamoro need to talk to,” Roque said.

“Of course, the congressman from the area should also spearhead the initiative in the lower house.”

Last week, Esmael Mangudadatu, a Muslim congressman from the south, filed a bill seeking to amend a law to allow extending Murad’s term.

The coronavirus pandemic and ongoing threats from Islamic State-linked militant groups in the south have slowed the reform process, Ebrahim had told BenarNews on Dec. 4.

“Initially, we wanted six years [of transition] but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had agreed to a compromise of three years. However, we see that time as very short,” said Murad, the former chief of the guerrilla group.

He was referring to negotiations that ended MILF’s decades-long armed separatist campaign and led to the creation of BAARM.

Since taking power in February 2019, the transitional government has put in place a working government, brought relative peace to the area and initiated some development there, Murad said.

“Due to COVID, the implementation [of reforms] has slowed down. We could not implement certain agreements that we had committed to,” Murad said.

However, threats from groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group and its various factions have thwarted a major reform goal – decommissioning the weapons of former MILF fighters, Murad said.

His group had fought for a separate Muslim state in Catholic Philippines since 1978. It eventually dropped its demand for an independent state, and agreed to expanded autonomy for the region.

And in February last year, these guerrillas, led by Murad, assumed leadership of the autonomous Muslim region.

The handover of weapons, in phases, is a condition of the deal with the government that led to the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro region.

Currently, only 30 percent of the estimated 40,000 such arms, said to be held by Moro Islamic Liberation Front members, have been surrendered and destroyed, Murad said on Friday.

Former guerrillas are reluctant to give up their weapons amid ongoing attacks from IS-linked militants, said Murad.

Still, he had said he was certain that the remaining 70 percent of weapons would “be decommissioned in the next two years.”

Mariel Lucenio contributed to this report from Manila.

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