Is Tawi-Tawi still part of BARMM?

This is a rhetorical question. It occupied the mind of many professionals in Tawi-Tawi in the aftermath of the appointment of the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the interim governing authority in the Muslim autonomous region. How is this so?

My last article drew prompt reaction from residents. Wounds were inflicted on the ego of some stakeholders who expected observance of inclusivity and a more qualified roster of members of the BTA.

From the home of “Baleleng,” Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost part of the Philippines, comes a report that Governor Ysmael “Amang” Sali, like the other governors, was not likewise engaged in the selection of the new composition of the BTA. He is not your run-of-the-mill provincial leader, but an influential Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao regional chairperson of the League of Provinces of the Philippines. You brush him off and your programs in the region will probably go nowhere. After all, he is a “giant killer,” having unseated the old man “Dick” Sahaly, the formidable political kingpin whose family dynasty held sway over the province for decades, dating back to the time of President Marcos Sr.

A profound post in social media was shared to this column by a friend, and we are quoting it unabridged: “With roughly 440,000 people, Tawi-Tawi has about nine percent of BARMM’s population, as of 2020. Yet earlier today, the palace appointed only three Tawi-Tawians, or 3.75 percent of the 80-member BTA parliament. Simple math says, though not exact, only about 40 percent of us are represented.

Forty percent. Which bears the question — Are we 60 percent less for us to deserve this utter show of discrimination and complete disrespect?”

“Worse, none among the three newly appointed/reappointed MPs belong to the Sama group — the majority ethnic group in the province.”

“As we are denied of proportionate representation and the true essence of republican democracy that we supposed to embrace, we, Tawi-Tawians, consequently are also denied of equality. We are stolen of our honor and dignity. We are openly mocked and stripped of our rights. This was done not once, not twice, but thrice. The injuries from the BTC to the first BTA are not even healed yet. Tawi-Tawi deserves better.” Strong words, indeed!

Readers, forget the few grammatical slip-ups of the author. It is normal for someone carried away by his emotional outburst. But this encapsulates the pain felt by the Sama of Tawi-Tawi. This column is not familiar with the cited statistics and events referred to by the writer. But the message is very clear — The Sama tribe is not represented and are hurting. There is a resounding outcry against the perceived political injustice. As political theorists postulate: Take away representation as the core value of a democracy, and what you have is creeping authoritarianism.

From the island province of Basilan, we likewise heard rumblings of dissatisfaction in the vetting. Media report that the chapter head of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, which was the party officially used by President Marcos Jr. in the last husting, has allegedly been sidelined for appointment. He expressed dismay that those who really worked for the victory of Marcos Jr. were not given due recognition.

In the meantime, readers, it’s better to hold your horses as yet. It’s too early to tell whether the new BTA can be equal to the huge task before it. Only time can tell. Our national leaders must have concluded that Sama representation should give way to a more preponderant interest — peace. That’s the zeitgeist in the region. The challenges ahead are formidable.

To the newly-minted BARMM officials: You are offered another golden chance to wage a political and social reform campaign no longer in the dense jungle, but in the halls of parliament. Do not squander it. Tone down profligacy. Minimize bureaucratic lapses. Arrest greed and graft. Else, you will answer for the blood of the thousands of mujahideens who laid their life for a better tomorrow for the Moro.


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