Flag rites mark end of an era of conflict

Published January 22, 2021, 10:11 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The Bangsamoro flag was raised side by side with the Philippine flag at the Bangsamoro Government Center in Cotabato City last Monday to officially start the anniversary celebration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

“Here we are, hoisting the Bangsamoro flag next to the Philippine flag for the first time ever,” BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said. The flag-raising rites held great significance for many who had seen the two flags raised by opposing forces in fighting that dominated so much of Mindanao for years before the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in 2019.

“We can now proudly say that we have achieved genuine autonomy that encapsulates the long history of the Bangsamoro people – our sacrifices and our shared vision for the next generation,” Ebrahim said. The hoisting of the two flags side by side was simultaneously held in other parts of the BARMM, including Isabela and Basilan, six towns in Lanao del Norte, and 39 barangays in Cotabato.

The Moro people of Mindanao have the distinction of never yielding to the colonial forces that sought to subjugate Mindanao through over three centuries of Spanish colonial rule and American military administration. Various Moro forces – notably the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – fought government forces in Mindanao for decades.

Talks between the Philippine government and the MILF led to the signing of a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2012 and President Beni
gno Aquino III set up the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). He submitted the draft to Congress in 2014, but the Mamasapano clash of 2015 in which 44 Special Action Force men of the Philippine National Police were killed along with 18 MILF and five BIFF men set back approval of the BBL by Congress.

It was only after the election of President Duterte in 2016 that Congress finally approved the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was finally established in February, 2019.

The flag-raising ceremony last Monday was followed by the symbolic turnover of 100,000 armchairs to schools in BARMM, the distribution of relief goods and wheelchairs, launching of regional disaster vehicles and equipment, signing of agreements with local government units for infrastructure projects, assistance to indigent students, and creation of a program for livelihood assistance to 10,000 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who had returned to the fold of the law.

It was the regional government carrying out its programs for its various constituents. But most significant of all was the raising of the regional Bangsamoro flag side by side with the national Philippine flag, for, more than anything else on that day, it highlighted the end of the long years of violence and conflict in that part of our country.