President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a measure postponing the first regular elections of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to 2025, the Palace said Friday.
The law will reset the holding of the first BARMM regular polls from May 2022 to May 2025, effectively amending the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) of 2018.
Duterte signed the law after holding a meeting with BARMM stakeholders in Malacanang, where they discussed the 2022 elections.
The President may appoint the 80 new interim members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) or the region's parliament who shall serve up to June 30, 2025, or until their successors shall have been elected and qualified.
The BTA lobbied to postpone the elections, citing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Under the law, the first parliamentary elections in the Bangsamoro region shall be held and synchronized with the 2025 national elections,” the Palace said.
The election was a key provision in a 2014 peace agreement aimed at ending a conflict estimated to have claimed 150,000 lives and was due to take place next May in the BARMM.
But former rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) group appointed to lead a transitional government have said they needed more time before elections to a local legislature can go ahead and the vote will instead be held in 2025.
Former MILF rebels have warned that the failure of the peace process would likely draw disillusioned Muslim youths in the region towards the more hardline Islamists still waging an armed campaign in the southern Philippines.
But restrictions imposed because of the pandemic and the transitional government's inability to draw up an election code had left them with little choice but to delay the poll, Georgi Engelbrecht, senior analyst for the Brussels-based peace monitor International Crisis Group, said last month.
"The extension is not the most perfect solution but nonetheless it's a start," he said.
A report by the monitor warned in April that the process of decommissioning the MILF's 40,000 fighters was "sputtering," with fewer than a third having laid down their weapons.
And the Duterte government "has been slow to distribute to them the economic packages meant to entice them to cooperate," it added.
Violence has also persisted despite the peace deal, with radical Islamic groups setting up shop in what remains the poorest part of the country.
In May 2017, hundreds of pro-Islamic State foreign and local gunmen seized Marawi, the country's largest Muslim city.
The Philippine military wrested back the ruined city after a five-month battle that claimed more than a thousand lives.
An insurgency first emerged in the mainly Catholic Asian nation in the early 1970s as a bid to set up a separate Muslim state in the Mindanao region, though the rebels later scaled down their goals to autonomy.
An earlier peace treaty between Manila and a rival Muslim rebel faction had created a self-ruled area in 1996, but it was hampered by a lack of funding and corruption while the MILF fought on.
The new entity is better-funded and slightly larger. The national government retains police powers.
Senator Francis Tolentino welcomed the postponement, saying it was needed to achieve long and lasting peace in the region.
He said the postponement would also ensure that all the agreements under the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the national government and the MILF are fulfilled.
Deputy Speaker, Loren Legarda on Thursday also hailed the postponement of the BARMM elections.
Legarda, principal author of the newly-signed Republic Act No. 11593, said the postponement of the BARMM elections to synchronize it with the 2025 national elections would allow for the strengthening of the BARMM’s foundations for a stronger regional government and economy while also providing an adequate amount of time for the full transition of the BARMM to transpire.
Legarda said the law will also allow the Bangsamoro government to attend to more urgent needs of the people especially during this time of the pandemic. With AFP