By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The interim parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is set to hold here its first session on March 21, or exactly 19 years to the day when the Estrada government declared an “all-out war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Sixty four of the 76 appointed members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) met at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center (SKCC) here last March 9 and agreed on the date, after also considering March 18 as the date for the historical event.
March 18 falls on the 51st anniversary of the Jabiddah Massacre, which brought about the birth of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the mother unit of the MILF. It is also the 84th anniversary of the Dansalan Declaration, through which Filipino Muslims sought non-inclusion in the Philippines and be granted separate independence by the United States.
BTA members settled for March 21, purportedly not realizing the date had sentimental value. It was on the same day in 2000 when President Estrada declared an “all-out war” against the MILF after front forces led by Abdullah “Kumander Bravo” Macapaar occupied the town hall of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte.
Last February 22, President Duterte appointed 76 of the 80 members of the BTA, and also named MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim as BTA interim Chief Minister. The BTA governs BARMM until 2022 when the new region’s regular officials would be elected to office.
Interim Chief Minister Ebrahim assumed office on Feb. 27, initially naming heads of BARMM ministries. He appointed also his first MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar as parliament speaker and lawyer Pangalian Balindong as deputy speaker.
Jaafar, head of the reconstituted BTC, died last March 13, prompting Balindong to preside over the upcoming March 21 inaugural parliamentary session.
Balindong, a contemporary colleague of MILF founder Hashim, finished three terms as congressman of Lanao del Sur’s second district, and had once served as speaker of the Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).