By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) – The leader of the Bangsamoro autonomous region in the Southern Philippines said on Thursday that Jan. 21 would be remembered as the "date of our commitment to pursue lasting peace and development in our homeland."
Chief Minister Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim, on the anniversary of the Bangsamoro Foundation Day, asked his fellow citizens to move forward together in order to realize "our shared dreams and aspirations," according to an official statement.
He said: "The establishment of the autonomous government is not an end but a mere continuation of our struggle."
"It is important to constantly remind ourselves that what we achieved so far is founded on the blood, sweat, and tears of our brethren, our mujahedeen, as well as the people and communities who went through so much pain and suffering for the sake of our struggle," Ebrahim added.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was created after the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in 2018. This came after decades of struggle by the people of the region.
Later in early 2019, it was ratified through a plebiscite as a result of two-decade-long peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippines government.
Last year, the BARMM passed the Bangsamoro Administrative Code, which marks Jan. 21 as the Bangsamoro Foundation Day and declared it a non-working holiday.
– Week-long celebrations
Earlier this week, the Bangsamoro government started its week-long anniversary celebrations on Monday, raising its flag at government headquarters, schools and other government units.
"Giving honor and justice to these sacrifices are precisely the main considerations in the normalization process of the peace agreement," said the chief minister, representing nearly five million Muslim-dominated population in the region.
"While we see that many of the agreed deliverables are not yet met in this critical track of the peace process, we also see that we can do our share in giving such honor and justice in the political track by building a government truly worthy of the name Bangsamoro," he added.
Recalling his two years in office, Ebrahim said: "With the challenges brought by the pandemic, along with the massive changes in the bureaucracy, time is really of the essence. The Bangsamoro Transition Period is a crucial time and we cannot afford to lose this opportunity for anything less than what we have envisioned in the Bangsamoro Organic Law."
"For some, it may only mean as a timeframe. However, in peacebuilding perspective and for us who have struggled for decades, it is probably the most important phase of the peace process that should never be taken for granted," he said.
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) has to complete the transition process by 2022 under the Ebrahim-led government. There is, however, the possibility that the duration will stretch to 2025.
In November last year, the Philippine Presidency said it would "review the proposed resolution of the BTA urging [Philippine] Congress to extend the Bangsamoro transition period from 2022 to 2025."
The statement had come after Ebrahim and his BARMM officials met President Rodrigo Duterte.
For his part, Ebrahim "expressed support" for the resolution.
– Autonomous government
In 2019, a historic referendum was held on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 in southern Mindanao, granting autonomy to Moro Muslims.
On Feb. 26, Ebrahim took his post from the central government's regional governor in an official ceremony.
He was appointed by President Duterte to administer the BTA through to 2022, when the transition process is expected to end.
With comprehensive autonomy, Muslims will be free in their internal affairs, being able to establish and administer courts of Islamic law within their jurisdiction and manage their surrounding waters jointly with the central government.
They will be bound to the Philippines in foreign policy, though with some flexibility.
In addition, former fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front, as well as those from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will be eligible to join the official armed forces.