BARMM commemorates 10-year-old peace accord, Murad cites gains

Rommel Rebollido

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BARMM commemorates 10-year-old peace accord, Murad cites gains

LIGHT MOMENT. Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez (left) in a banter with Maguindanao del Norte Governor Abdulraof Macacua, and another MILF leader during the 10th year commemoration of the peace accord signing with the government in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat.

Rommel Rebollido/Rappler

BARMM Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim says the 2014 peace pact opened the doors to correcting historical injustices and dismantling oppressive systems in the region

MAGUINDANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – A veteran Moro fighter, 63-year-old Abubakar Usop, continues to report for guard duty to help secure the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town and the communities around it.

Darapanan is where MILF leaders, who are now government officials and lawmakers, chose to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB), a peace accord on March 27, 2014, that led to the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Usop, like many of his colleagues in the Darapanan security detail, is not from Darapanan but has come to render guard duty for 15 days and wait to be replaced with another group.

“We have to make sure that all is safe here,” he said on Wednesday, March 27, pointing out the big difference in what they do now compared to recent years.

“There is now peace, and people here can sleep undisturbed,” said the survivor of the government’s all-out offensives against the MILF more than a decade ago.

Declining poverty rate

During the commemoration rites on Wednesday, March 27, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, who is also the MILF chairman, said the CAB signing during the presidency of the late Benigno Aquino III in 2014 opened the doors to “correcting historical injustices and dismantling oppressive systems,” which hindered the development of the region and its people.

Expressing gratitude to past and present leaders of the country for their support in implementing the CAB, Ebrahim said the new Bangsamoro government was able to “reduce the region’s poverty rates, increase investments, make available employment opportunities, and work for the opening of economic activities.”

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show a significant decline in BARMM’s poverty incidence by 29.8% in 2021 from 54.20% in 2018. This was accompanied by a 56% increase in investments.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said the CAB symbolizes the government’s desire to uplift the lives of the Bangsamoro people and transform their areas into peaceful, progressive, and resilient communities.

Survivor’s story

A few meters from the gates of the camp where the commemoration rites were being held, 32-year-old college student Zoraini Rashid tended to her uncle’s small sari-sari (variety) store.

Rashid told Rappler that in her desire to help her family, she decided to remain single, “so I can freely work with the intention to lift my siblings and parents out of poverty.”

Left with no other option, her parents had to agree with her decision to work as a domestic in the Middle East to be safe from the frequent armed clashes in their town in Talayan, Rashid said as she narrated her story of dodging bullets as a young girl.

DISPLAY. Zoraini Rashid tends to her uncle’s small store with an MILF flag conspicuously displayed in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat. Rommel Rebollido/Rappler

On her return from abroad in 2018, Rashid opted to stay with her relatives in Darapanan for security reasons even as she observed that “malaki ang pinagbago, wala nang giyera, nakakapagaral na ako (there is a big difference now, no more war, I can go to school).”

She is about to complete a course in Islamic Studies at the Cotabato State University, made possible by the free education program of the Bangsamoro government. Free education means free tuition only, no allowance or stipend.

Rashid wanted to be a physician, a childhood dream, but she said, “Hindi na kakayanin, tumatanda na ako at wala nang pera (I can’t afford it anymore. I’m getting old, and I don’t have the money for it).”

Can gains be sustained?

Abet Soledo, 53, a resident of Barangay Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, also fled the fighting during the government’s all-out war launched by the administration of then-president Joseph Estrada.

He went to work abroad as a utility worker for a carpet dealer in Saudi Arabia and returned home when he learned that the MILF and the Philippine government came to a truce in 2014.

“Nakabalik ako tapos na ang giyera, hindi talaga maganda ang giyera (I was able to return when the war was over; war is really no good),” Soledo said, recalling the days when his family would evacuate to avoid hostilities.

Soledo said it was good that the Bangsamoro stood their ground and fought.

Asked about the ongoing celebration, he said, “Wala nang giyera, tahimik na. (No more war, it is already peaceful).”

He, however, had no answer when asked if he thought the present gains can be sustained.

In nearby Datu Odin Sinsuat town, also in Maguindanao del Norte, residents fled their homes on Monday, March 25, to avoid fighting between a group of the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The Muslim-majority region will hold its first parliamentary elections since its creation, simultaneously with the mid-term national and local elections, next year. The International Crisis Group, based in Brussels, earlier cautioned that armed groups and political disputes ahead of the 2025 elections pose potential threats to BARMM’s stability.–

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