2022 PH presidential race

Robredo scores sweet birthday endorsement from top BARMM, MILF party leaders

Mara Cepeda
Robredo scores sweet birthday endorsement from top BARMM, MILF party leaders

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman and Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim raised the hand of Vice President Leni Robredo, declaring her as the chosen presidential candidate of the MILF and its political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP). The declaration took place on the birthday of Robredo, the lone female presidential candidate, today, April 23. The UBJP's local candidates-- Maguindanao 1st District Representative Datu Roonie Sinsuat, Sr. Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael Mangundadatu, and former Maguindanao 1st District Representative Bai Sandra Ampatuan-Sema-- joined Ebrahim and Robredo onstage. The event took place at the MILF's headquarters in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao. Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

(1st UPDATE) 'At certain points, when we needed allies in Congress, and as Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo was there for us,' says BARMM Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, who also chairs the United Bangsamoro Justice Party

MANILA, Philippines – Two weeks before the May 9 polls, presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo clinched two coveted alliances in the Bangsamoro region: the endorsement of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) – the political part of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – and its candidate for Maguindanao governor, 2nd District Representative Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. 

It’s a sweet birthday gift for the lone female presidential candidate, who flew all the way to the MILF’s headquarters in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao, on Saturday, April 23 – the day she turned 57. She will head back to Metro Manila by early afternoon to attend her grand rally in Pasay City. 

Robredo’s hand was raised by no less than MILF chairman and Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, who chairs the UBJP, and Mangudadatu.

Vice President Leni Robredo with (L-R) former Maguindanao 1st District Rep. Bai Sandra Ampatuan-Sema, Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael Mangundadatu, BARMM Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, and Maguindanao 1st District Rep. Datu Roonie Sinsuat. Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

Murad said that Robredo and the UBJP are “overwhelmingly compatible” in terms of values and principles in relation to the Bangsamoro.

In his speech declaring the UBJP endorsement of Robredo, the BARMM chief noted that only two presidential candidates “courageously approached the UBJP to introduce themselves and their slate and to offer their commitment to continue the gains of the Bangsamoro Peace Processes.” He did not name the other candidate, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.

He said that in their meeting with Robredo, it was clear that “this presidential candidate sees eye to eye with the UBJP and is considerably familiar with the history, context, struggle, and issues of the Bangsamoro.”

“This presidential candidate is a brave, strong-willed, and compassionate leader, who wittingly fights for the rights of the marginalized, knowing fully well that peace cannot be attained without serving justice. This leader is Leni Robredo,” Murad said.

“The UBJP categorically endorses Leni Robredo as its presidential candidate for May 9, 2022 presidential national and local election. Her track record consistently demonstrates strong support to the advocacies of the Bangsamoro,” he added.

‘Leni Robredo was there for us’

Murad also noted that Robredo, in her different capacities in government, was always there for the Bangsamoro.

“At certain points, when we needed allies in Congress, and as Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo was there for us. She was there for Marawi. She makes time for the Bangsamoro. And in the many engagements with her, on specific concerns of the Bangsamoro, we feel her compassion and support. Leni Robredo is not just all [talk]; she acts,” he said.

“As we aspire for genuine reconciliation and national healing, having Leni Robredo as the next President of the country, brings hope to the realization of the elusive unity through inclusivity, good governance, and real democracy,” Murad added.

He urged voters in BARMM, especially, to support Robredo, saying her victory would mean victory as well for the Bangsamoro people.

‘SHE WAS THERE FOR US.’ Vice President Leni Robredo shakes hands with people who gathered in Camp Darapanan for her endrosement event on April 23, 2022. Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

The endorsement is historic as Robredo became the first presidential candidate to be officially supported by the UBJP. Murad said the party earlier pledged to support the candidate of President Rodrigo Duterte but the latter chose to stay neutral in the presidential election and only endorsed his daughter, vice presidential candidate Sara Duterte.

In his speech, BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal explained the UBJP’s careful process of choosing their presidential candidate.

“We took particular interest in the style and temperament of the candidates on Bangsamoro issues and concerns. This is important because the historical injustices in the Bangsamoro context could easily be overlooked in the Philippine narrative, and truly, not every Filipino understands the root causes of conflict in our region,” said Iqbal, who was the chief MILF negotiator in peace talks with the government.

He noted that Robredo had shown that she is indeed a “friend” of the Bangsamoro.”

“As a group, we will treasure what you have shown to us because those who stick by our side during our hard times, deserves to be with us during our best times…. She, truly and sincerely, is not only a friend but also one with the Bangsamoro people,” Iqbal said.

Robredo’s commitment to the Bangsamoro

In her speech, Robredo described the endorsement as a “huge birthday gift.”

COMMITMENTS. Vice President Leni Robredo details her platforms of action for the Bangsamoro following her official endorsement as the presidential candidate of the UBJP in Camp Darapanan, Maguindanao, on April 23, 2022. Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

“What I can assure the Bangsamoro people is that a Robredo presidency will be a friend and supporter of the Bangsamoro and a champion of the peace process. My track record as Vice President is my assurance that I will fulfill my commitments. My friendship and support to the Bangsamoro people have been consistent in the six years that I was Vice President,” she said.

She committed the following platforms of action to the Bangsamoro, if elected president:

  1.  Hasten the implementation of the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro, including the political track and the normalization track
  2. Fully implement provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law and continue the momentum of the inter-governmental relations body in due regard and recognition of genuine autonomy
  3.  Immediate passage of the transitional justice bill
  4. Activate the amnesty commission and fast track the appointment of its members
  5. Complete the rehabilitation of Marawi and allow the safe return of the internally displaced persons

“With these commitments, I put myself before you as a candidate for the presidency of the Republic of the Philippines and hope to be your partner in working for peace in Mindanao,” she said.

Robredo noted that it was her second time to celebrate her birthday in BARMM – the first was in 2019, when she had work in relation to the Marawi rehabilitation.

The Moros remember

That the BARMM officials ultimately endorsed Robredo does not come as a surprise. Though the gap in numbers is still huge, major pre-election surveys still indicate Robredo as the candidate with the best chances of defeating the frontrunner, the late dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. 

BARMM leaders would certainly not throw their support behind the Marcoses, the family whose hands are stained by the blood of their Moro forefathers who were brutally massacred under the dictator’s regime.

In the 2016 vice-presidential poll that saw her going head-to-head against Marcos Jr., Robredo won the Moro vote in the now-defunct ARMM. Moros gave her 566,455 votes while Marcos only got 331,762 votes. 

The MILF leaders also remember what Robredo has done for the Moro people these past years.

As former Camarines Sur 3rd District congresswoman, Robredo was among the lawmakers who actively lobbied for the passage of the Bangsamoro bill. When Robredo became Vice President, a bulk of her Angat Buhay anti-poverty programs also benefitted the BARMM.

This was not lost on the MILF leadership. During their meeting on March 16, Murad told Robredo that the Bangsamoro needed “like-minded leaders” continue the peace process.

With Mangudadatu and the MILF now behind her, along with the machinery of her longtime ally and Basilan Representative Mujiv Hataman, Robredo has a bigger chance of repeating her victory in the Bangsamoro.

But it would not be easy, as Marcos already secured of four out of the five governors in the Bangsamoro: Abdusakur “Sakur” Mahail Tan of Sulu, Yshmael “Mang” Sali of Tawi-Tawi, Mariam Mangudadatu of Maguindanao, and Mamintal “Bombit” Alonto Adiong Jr. of Lanao del Sur. 

The only BARMM governor to support Robredo for this election is Basilan Governor Hadjiman Hataman-Salliman, the brother of Mujiv.

Huge blow to Moreno

By securing the support of the influential member of the Mangudadatu clan and the leaders of the transitional government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Robredo is dealing another huge blow to presidential bet Moreno.

The lawmaker earlier endorsed Moreno for president and expressed support for the Manila mayor’s Aksyon Demokratiko party.

Now, Mangudadatu has jumped ship to Robredo, who has been able to stage behemoth rallies attended by tens of thousands of her supporters even in bailiwicks of her political enemies. 

Aside from Robredo, Moreno also actively sought out the endorsement of the MILF and BARMM officials. Moreno was even ahead of Robredo in arranging a sit-down meeting with Murad to discuss plans on how to maintain peace in the Bangsamoro. 

The Manila mayor has been ramping up the attacks against Robredo ever since his IM Pilipinas volunteer group defected to the Vice President in mid-March. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.