Crisis Group predicts more BARMM conflict but finds hope 2023

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group predicted political conflicts will cause volatility in Maguindanao del Sur’s October barangay elections.

A 2021 statute adopted by a vote created the new province from the defunct Maguindanao province.

The Crisis Group’s May 1 analysis, led by analyst Georgi Engelbrecht, cautioned that complicated power relations in the two new Maguindanao regions might lead to more bloodshed.

Mangudadatu rule Maguindanao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat.

Mariam, a clan member, defeated ex-governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu months before Maguindanao was split.

The United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) backed her husband Suharto’s cousin, Maguindanao legislator Esmael.

Mariam was designated officer-in-charge (OIC)/governor of the newly constituted Maguindanao del Sur, but she declined. After meeting with First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos and Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., she refrained.

She wanted her political friend, Vice Governor Fatima Ainee Sinsuat of undivided Maguindanao, to be her counterpart in Maguindanao del Norte.

Her family heads a coalition of important political clans in the newly constituted Maguindanao provinces. They also dominate Sultan Kudarat province in Soccsksargen, where Pax Ali, Suharto and Mariam’s son, is governor.

Their organization and Bangsamoro area authorities have clashed over administration and battled for local seats in the 2022 elections.

Toned down

On May 3, Mangudadatu extended an olive branch to OIC Governor Abdulraof Macacua of Maguindanao del Norte, saying she wished to reconcile and work with regional leaders.

Macacua was a Bangsamoro senior minister and Ebrahim’s confidant before becoming Maguindanao del Norte’s OIC governor.

Macacua commanded the MILF’s military branch, whose members currently lead the transitional administration.

Mangudadatu denounced Macacua’s nomination as governor of Maguindanao del Norte and vowed to challenge the President’s selection of OICs in the two new provinces before the Supreme Court (SC).

Mangudadatu accepted Macacua’s appointment a week after she attended the OICs’ oath-taking in Malacañang.

On May 3, she addressed a press conference that regional and provincial leaders must work together to overcome their disputes and move forward, especially in responding to the Maguindanao del Sur armed conflicts.

A hope

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s approach to BARMM and regional political clans gave the Crisis Group optimism.

Ebrahim and the MILF endorsed former vice president Leni Robredo, Marcos’ main opponent in 2022, but the Crisis Group noted the President supported the region’s interim government and peace initiatives began by his predecessors.

The Crisis Group stated Marcos reappointed Ebrahim as interim chief minister and maintained peace process procedures, ending months of uncertainty about the Mindanao peace process.

The group highlighted that Marcos had previously resisted efforts from political clans to nominate them to regional government positions.

Mariam’s husband Suharto, for example, was widely seen as a likely replacement for Ebrahim after the 2022 elections, and some of his supporters called him “chief minister” until August of that year, believing he would be rewarded for his family’s support for Marcos’s successful presidential campaign.

Living style

The Crisis Group predicted that conflicts and distrust among local, regional, and national players will continue to make Bangsamoro politics problematic and violent beyond elections.

Unfulfilled peace deal pledges might test the MILF, particularly in its leadership-rank-and-file relationship, according to the May 1 article.

The MILF leadership is committed to the peace process, but the report warned that some members may take independent action, including resuming armed struggle, if they believe vote-buying and deal-making will prevent them from retaining power after the 2025 elections.

The Crisis Group advised the government to accommodate clans and help former MILF combatants transition to civilian life without tolerating private armies that threaten regional security.

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