The Senate has passed the bill seeking to move to May 2025 the first regular elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
The polls were originally scheduled for May 2022.
Fifteen senators voted in favor of Senate Bill 2214 on Monday, September 6, while three were against it: Ralph Recto, Manny Pacquiao, and Panfilo Lacson. Senator Imee Marcos abstained from the vote.
The bill, if enacted, would amend a provision of Republic Act 11054, also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which provides that the Bangsamoro government must synchronize its first elections with the 2022 national elections.
Under SB 2214, “the first regular election for the Bangsamoro government under this organic law shall be held and synchronized with the 2025 national elections.”
The proposed measure also gives the new president in 2022 the authority to decide on the composition of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).
“Upon the expiration of the terms of the incumbent members of the BTA, the President shall appoint the 80 members of the said BTA who shall serve up to June 30, 2025 or until their successors have been elected,” the proposed amendment reads.
The House version of the measure hurdled the commitee level on August 26.
Why postpone the polls
Advocates for the postponement of the 2022 BARMM polls have cited the absence of a regional electoral code as one of the major factors in seeking a delay in the polls.
Pandemic-driven challenges have hampered the creation of the electoral code and the accomplishment of other deliverables, and BARMM officials have said that an extension would buy them more time to fully build the Bangsamoro government.
A Comelec resolution released on August 11 also noted that the poll body was unable to determine the allocation of elective posts for the BARMM elections due to the unavailability of a regional electoral code.
Senator Francis Tolentino, co-author of the Senate bill, also said that the complicated political dynamics in the area made it impossible for regional officials to assign parliamentary districts in time for the filing of certificates of candidacy on October 1.
“When you redistrict, it would entail not just talking to the political leadership in the area, but it would entail engaging with the indigenous peoples, the local officials, on where the boundaries would lie,” Tolentino said on August 24. “They cannot physically, geographically survey the area amidst the pandemic.”
The BARMM, with a population of over 4 million people, was established in early 2019 after the BOL was ratified in a plebiscite.
The landmark measure was enacted in 2018, four years after the historic peace deal was signed between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which heads the BTA.
‘Better chance for healing, rebuilding’
Top BARMM officials and civil society leaders hailed the Senate’s decision.
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said a three-year extension would give the BTA ample time to “finish the job” and assure that the next regional officials can work “under a system that befits the realities of the Bangsamoro.”
“The extension for three more years gives us a better chance for healing, for rebuilding, and for setting the future of the Bangsamoro,” Ebrahim said in a statement.
Ebrahim lauded Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, and other legislators for believing in the Bangsamoro cause.
BARMM Minister for Interior and Local Government Naguid Sinarimbo called it “a historic move” by the Senate.
Sinarimbo said the BTA could now iron out major issues like the management of mineral and natural resources.
He cited Lake Lanao as an example. “Under the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro), we are given a 50% share. The BTA can now institutionalize this.”
The government and the MILF signed the CAB in 2014. Among its key features was the creation of the Bangsamoro region out of the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The House of Representatives has yet to pass its own version of the extension, House Bill No. 10121.
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the peace advocacy group Mindanao People’s Caucus, hailed the Senate’s move and appealed to the Lower House to speed up its work.
“With 23 days remaining before the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections, the extension bill is indeed running out of time,” Armado said.
BTA Parliament member Zia Alonto Adiong expressed his gratitude to senators.
“The Senate did not simply extend the transition period; it has also secured the gains of the peace process,” Adiong said. – with reports from Froilan Gallardo/Rappler.com