BARMM keeps high hopes amid pandemic

Officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are keeping their hopes up to weather all difficulties brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

This came about as BARMM officials said they are doing everything they can to help the region keep up with the “new normal” pace amid the pandemic.

“We have to live and be attuned to this new way of life. As leaders, we have to live by example to the Bangsamoro that there is this hope that we can rely on and assure them that everything will be alright,” Naguib Sinarimbo, the region’s interior minister, said during an interview with reporters Thursday.

“You see, there is no room for discouragement here as the more than two-year-old BARMM region is moving forward despite the pandemic,” added Sinarimbo, a lawyer and concurrent spokesperson of the region.

He said they have so much to thank the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for, mainly for giving them the chance to govern the Bangsamoro through the creation of the fledgling region.

On October 29 this year, the President signed Republic Act 11593 that reset the first regular election in the region and extended the term of the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the BARMM’s provisional lawmaking body, from 2022 to 2025.

“The national government believes that we have to finish many projects we have started for the Bangsamoro that was hindered by the pandemic and we have to keep that trust given to us by President Duterte,” Sinarimbo said.

Regional investments

To prove that they have to keep the promise they gave to the Bangsamoro of a better life for everyone, the BARMM had never stopped inviting investors to the region despite the threats posed by Covid-19.

As a result, the region generated a total of PHP2.8 billion worth of investments this year, surpassing its target of PHP2.5 billion for the period by about PHP300 million.

Lawyer Ishak Mastura, chairman of the Bangsamoro Board of Investments – BARMM, said top investors for the region this year are the Al Muzafar Agriventure, Inc. with PHP950 million worth of investments; the ES Maulana Global Ventures Company, Inc. (PHP998 million); the Eight Z’s Building Property Rental (PHP398 million); Lanao del Sur Corn Development Corp. (PHP408 million); and the Prime Certification and Inspection Asia Pacific, Inc. (PHP49 million).

“The total amount is a strong rebound from the PHP14 million investments registered in 2020, and this came despite the continuing struggles of investors and companies to survive the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic,” Mastura said.

The BARMM comprises the cities of Cotabato, Lamitan, and Marawi; the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; and the 63 villages in six towns of North Cotabato.

The BARMM replaced the 29-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as part of the final peace agreement between the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front, which also inked a final peace accord with the government on Sept. 2, 1996.

Travel and tourism

With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions lately, the BARMM also opened its doors to tourists this month but with minimum health protocols maintained.

On December 15, the region’s Ministry of Trade, Investment, and Tourism (MTIT) launched its Shariff Kabunsuan Festival, ending its two-year hiatus on welcoming visitors due to the pandemic.

The colorful festival marked the arrival of Shariff Mohammad Kabunsuan, the missionary from Johore who brought Islam to mainland Mindanao via the Rio Grande de Mindanao River in the 14th century.

The Guinakit fluvial parade highlighted the festival on December 19, featuring bancas – Moro boats colorfully decorated with Maguindanaon-inspired cloth in vivid colors of yellow, red, and green – that entered the bucana (mouth) of the Rio Grande de Mindanao.

The festival also featured authentic dishes and delicacies to the delight of hundreds of both foreign and domestic visitors.

“Health protocols were strictly observed amid the revelries,” MTIT Director General Rosslaini Alonto-Sinarimbo said.

Peace and order

Meanwhile, military and police authorities in the region, particularly in Central Mindanao, have reported a continuous flow of surrenderers from the lawless groups of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Dawlah Islamiya (DI), and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) this year.

In a report, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID) based in Central Mindanao said 162 BIFF, 37 DI, and 154 NPA rebels surrendered before the Army-led Task Force Central since January this year.

“We welcomed all the surrenderers and they are now reunited with their families with livelihood packages from both national government and local government units,” said Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, the 6ID commander.

The 6ID covers the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani, parts of North Cotabato, and Lanao del Sur in Central Mindanao.

Looking ahead

BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Murad” Ebrahim, in recent interviews, has repeatedly stressed one thing – that no Bangsamoro should be left behind.

“With the BARMM, it is time to move forward. It’s time to help one another in transforming the Bangsamoro for all,” he said in one of his recent speeches for the region.

Ebrahim also stood by the principle of “moral governance” for the region, one that is hinged on transparency and free from corruption.

“It has always been our desire in making sure we have a strong regional bureaucracy that can address our decades-long challenges to make sure that a brighter future awaits of us,” he said.

On December 28, BARMM lawmakers passed the proposed PHP79.862 billion budget for 2022, amounting to PHP79.8 billion.

Ebrahim said with the passing of the budget, more development projects and pro-people initiatives are assured of implementation next year.

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