2022 PH presidential race

UBJP endorsement of Robredo to test MILF’s clout in BARMM

Rommel Rebollido, Antonio Manaytay
UBJP endorsement of Robredo to test MILF’s clout in BARMM

ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT. Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim raises the hand of former vice President Leni Robredo, declaring her as the chosen presidential candidate of the MILF's political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, on April 23, 2022 – coinciding with the Vice President's birthday. The declaration took place on the birthday of Robredo, the lone female presidential candidate, today, April 23.

VP Leni Media Bureau

Whether or not the MILF party's endorsement will have any bearing at all in BARMM's provinces and cities ruled by traditional political families supporting another presidential candidate is something that remains to be seen

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – The United Bangsamoro Justice Party’s (UBJP) endorsement of the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo would serve as a litmus test of the political clout of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Bangsamoro region where presidential bet former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. secured the support of four of five governors.

For the first time, the UBJP – the MILF’s political party – has cast its lot with a presidential candidate who is facing an uphill battle against the son of the late dictator who has been dominating in the surveys from Day 1 of the campaign period.

Camp Darapanan, the MILF’s camp in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, turned pink on Saturday, April 23, when the Front’s leader and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim declared Robredo as the UBJP’s standard-bearer.

A jubilant Robredo, who turned 57 that day, came and acknowledged the support of the MILF, calling it “pinakamalaking birthday gift ko ito (the biggest birthday gift that I received).”

Robredo, wearing a black hijab over a pink blouse during the occasion, came, accompanied by former senator Bam Aquino.

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

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

For outsiders, the UBJP endorsement appeared significant in that it meant that the MILF-dominated BARMM government was all-out in supporting Robredo in a special administrative region that has the potential of tilting the balance during elections.

But whether or not the UBJP declaration will have any bearing at all in the region of five provinces and three cities ruled by traditional political families is something that remains to be seen.

ENDORSE. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman and Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and other Bangsamoro leaders in a press conference following their endorsement of Vice President Leni Robredo’s presidential bid on Saturday, April 23. (VP Leni Media Bureau)

Ebrahim said the UBJP decided to throw its support behind Robredo due to the “compatibility of principles, goals, and values.”

He called Robredo “incoming president,” and described the UBJP’s move as historic given that it was the first time that MILF, through its political party, was officially participating in national elections.

“The political participation of the MILF in the 2022 elections through the UBJP ushers a new brand of principled politics among which is our incoming president, Leni Robredo,” Ebrahim said.

In March, Ebrahim made it mandatory for all MILF members to vote for all the UBJP candidates in the May 9 elections. He warned that MILF members who would not vote for the party’s bets, especially in Cotabato City and Maguindanao, risk getting suspended.

Ebrahim, who is the chairman of the MILF, did not say exactly how the MILF would be able to tell who its members would vote, and ensure bloc voting. But Ebrahim’s pronouncement drew flak on social media with many netizens criticizing him for an “undemocratic” policy.

Although he is BARMM’s leader, Ebrahim and his group’s political endorsement has never been tested vis-à-vis the influence that the governors of the BARMM provinces wield in Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur.

Of BARMM’s five provinces, only the governor of Basilan, Hadjiman Hataman Saliman, has sent a message of support for Robredo.

Saliman is the brother of Mujiv Hataman, deputy speaker and Basilan’s representative, who served as the sixth and last governor of the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) mostly during the administration of the late president Benigno Aquino III.

The four other BARMM provincial governors – Abdusakar Tan of Sulu, Yshmael Sali of Tawi-tawi, Mariam Mangudadatu of Maguindanao, and Mamintal Adiong Jr. of Lanao del Sur – have made it clear that they were behind the presidential bid of Marcos.

Mariam’s husband, Sultan Kudarat Governor Suharto Mangudadatu, also joined the other Muslim governors in supporting Marcos.

Mariam’s reelection bid, however, is being challenged by her husband’s cousin, Maguindanao’s former governor and now 2nd District Representative Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, UBJP’s bet and who has now shifted his support from presidential candidate Manila Mayor Isko Moreno to Robredo.

Esmael’s wife Sharifa Akeel is running for governor in Sultan Kudarat against Suharto’s son Pax Ali.

The seat of BARMM’s regional government, Cotabato City, is also led by another Marcos supporter, Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who has long been at odds with the region’s leadership.

Sayadi had opposed her city’s inclusion in the autonomous region, and defeated former Maguindanao representative Sandra Sema in the 2019 mayoral elections. Sema is a supporter of Robredo’s presidential bid. 

GREET. 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

On Saturday, Ebrahim said the MILF and UBJP have chosen candidates who can work better for the welfare and aspirations of the Bangsamoro.

He also said Robredo sees eye-to-eye with the UBJP, and that of all the candidates for the presidency, she has shown to be considerably familiar with the Bangsamoro history and context.

The UBJP’s principled politics, he said, resonate with hers, and that she “stands out to be overwhelmingly compatible with the values, principles, and goals of the party.”

Robredo vowed to work for the best interest of the BARMM by hastening the implementation of the comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro, and implementing provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law if she succeeds in her presidential bid. – Rappler.com

Rommel Rebollido and Antonio Manaytay are Mindanao-based journalists and awardees of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship

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