Hataman calls for 'yes' Bangsamoro vote in last address as ARMM governor

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – He paused to collect himself as he prepared to speak for one last time as governor, in an event packed with peacemakers who worked for years to sign a deal that is now the basis for carving out a new Bangsamoro region.

In an emotional last address as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Mujiv Hataman on Wednesday, December 19, pushed for a "yes" vote in next year's plebiscite on  the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

The law intends to create a new region that will replace ARMM.

“The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is a victory for peace. It’s peace for Al Barka and the entire Lanao. It’s peace for Shariff Aguak, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Salibo. It’s peace that will be felt all throughout Cebu, Iloilo, and Metro Manila,” Hataman said in Filipino, referring to areas in Mindanao that have been plagued by violence. 

Hataman’s “Ulat sa Bayan” on Wednesday came a month before a plebiscite on January 21 and February 6 next year, to ratify the law that will create a new Bangsamoro government that is envisioned to end violence in Mindanao. It fulfills a a political settlement with the dominant Muslim rebel group in Mindanao, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 

The peace process was the centerpiece of Hataman’s leadership.

On Wednesday, he gathered those who had worked hard for the peace process through the years, such as MILF chairperson Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, who is expected to lead the new government if and when the BOL is ratified. 

The event in Cotabato City was a reunion of sorts for the peacemakers, who gave each other warm hugs and updates from areas where they have been campaigning. 

There’s hard work ahead of the plebiscite but on Wednesday, they paused to celebrate and claim victory. 

Former and incoming chief presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles and retired general Carlito Galvez Jr were also present.

Deles was presidential peace adviser when the framework of agreement between the government and MILF was signed in 2011. Galvez, as incoming presidential adviser on the peace process, will be at the helm during the plebiscite and the transition to the new government. 

“This is my last Ulat sa Bayan. Next year, Inshallah, we won’t be called ARMM anymore. Instead, we will be called Bangsamoro. A different leader will also make this speech. The truth is, I’m getting sentimental,” said Hataman as he thanked former President Benigno Aquino III for appointing him in 2011 to serve as the 7th governor of ARMM.

He also thanked President Rodrigo Duterte, a gesture met with a loud applause. Hataman said he offered to resign in 2016 to make way for Duterte’s choice, concerned that his ties with the Liberal Party would be detrimental for the region. Duterte did not accept his resignation. 

As Hataman boasted of better infrastructure, services, and quality of life in ARMM during his 7-year term, he said Mindanaoans need to approve the new Bangsamoro government because the powers of ARMM had proven to be limited. (READ: After Bangsamoro law, a bright yet bumpy road to peace)

“If there’s BOL, we are freer to to decide for ourselves. The delivery of government services will be faster. BOL is also the symbol of the victory of the peace process. We will close an old chapter of violence,” said Hataman. 

He also recalled his years as a party list representative when he had to beg fellow lawmakers to appropriate funds for projects in ARMM.

Ahead of the plebiscite, Hataman tasked ARMM offices to prepare documents for a smooth transition to the new Bangsamoro government. 

“The road to peace wasn’t easy. It was literally paved with the blood of our ancestors. It is the victory of our first mujahideens and martyrs. It is the victory of peace advocates and freedom fighters. It is the victory of all Moro and Filipino people,” Hataman said.

The outgoing governor is running for Congress in next year's elections, to represent Basilan province. – Rappler.com