Insights and Analysis

A New Generation Takes the Driver’s Seat in Bangsamoro

April 27, 2022

By Cris Cayon and Janice Fay Sevilla

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority’s Statutory Committees Support Service (SCSS). Eighty-five percent of the youthful staff are entry-level or mid-career professionals. (Photo: Zaira Patricia Baniaga)

The transition from conflict to peace to self-governance is a path littered with pitfalls. It requires fast, flexible action to build new institutions and secure the benefits of peace. Research has shown that more than half of all peace agreements fail within the first 10 years.

In the Philippines, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is now in year three of an ambitious institution-building project, after several years of difficult negotiations between the national government and a number of armed groups, most notably the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that sought greater autonomy for the Muslim-majority region of Mindanao. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the region’s transitional government, was established by plebiscite in 2019. The BARMM’s first parliamentary election, which would mark the formal end of the BTA, was to have coincided with the Philippine national election this May. In October 2021, however, at the request of the transitional government, President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11593, postponing the BARMM election and extending the transition until 2025.

Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim has exhorted Bangsamoro young people, development partners, civil society organizations, and the national government to press on with the BARMM project, and development groups are helping them create a development agenda, governance frameworks, policy initiatives, and reconciliation programs.

As the old guard of the liberation struggle ages, the BARMM needs young blood, and a new generation is heeding the call. Their youthful optimism is evident in Cotabato City, where the Bangsamoro Government Center Compound is buzzing with young professionals. We recently spoke with Abdel Jamal Disangcopan, a young Bangsamoro attorney who leads the BTA’s Statutory Committees Support Service (SCSS). He and his staff of 49 help the speaker of the interim parliament supervise that body’s 16 legislative committees. Disangcopan took a moment to reflect on his decision to quit his successful career in the capital and move back to Mindanao:

It was always a matter of when, not if. I had told myself to return to Mindanao in my 40s, but I am surprised that I joined sooner rather than later. From afar in Manila where I was working, hope was really palpable for the BARMM, and I wanted to help out in any way I could to ensure this new government would succeed. Little did I know I would be [hired as] part of the transition parliament!

Disangcopan had a successful career in Manila, specializing in legal reform, human rights, and public health, and teaching law on the side in top universities, when he decided, like many of his peers, to come home and help build the new Bangsamoro.

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan, age 38, is the young director of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority’s Statutory Committees Support Service (Photo: Zaira Patricia Baniaga)

He grew up in Iligan City during the years of armed conflict in Mindanao, but his father, who is a Meranao, one of the largest Islamic groups in the Philippines, raised him and his siblings outside the conflict zone and made sure they got a good education. He earned a degree in sociology in 2005 from the University of the Philippines Diliman, the nation’s premier research university, where he also studied law. At 27, a newly minted lawyer, he began working in the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process, part of the legal team of the newly constituted peace panel chaired by Marvic Leonen, now an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He also served as head of the provincial office of the Regional Human Rights Commission of Lanao Del Sur, where he reconnected with his Bangsamoro roots.

This early institutional experience prepared him well for his role as a public servant supporting the young BTA parliament. Joining the BTA staff in the second year of the transition—and the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic—Disangcopan began building his team, beginning with vaccinations for the entire staff, then creating a strategic roadmap of key goals and priorities and carving out job descriptions and formal procedures. He also launched a comprehensive training and development program, encompassing everything from the nuts and bolts of email etiquette and using Zoom to improve online legislative committee hearings, to a thorough refresher course on parliamentary rules for his young staff, 85 percent of whom are entry-level or mid-career professionals.

He introduced a peer work-shadowing program for the 16 legislative committee secretaries to learn from each other, and he enrolled them all in a paralegal program to ground them in the basic legal concepts that underpin their work. His team has partnered with development agencies to learn gender-responsive policy development and techniques for public consultation to prepare them to interact effectively with local communities.

Disangcopan and his staff are crucial to the BARMM’s institution-building project, working behind the scenes to ensure that the statutory committees can accomplish the BTA’s legislative goals. As of December 2021, there were 166 bills pending in the parliament, 24 of which were approved. These are fundamental acts that established the Bangsamoro Administrative Code, the Civil Service Code, and the Education Code, and created the Attorney General’s Office and commissions on human rights, women, youth, and sports. Still pending are the Bangsamoro Local Government Code, the Indigenous Peoples Code, the Electoral Code, and the Internal Revenue Code.

Now 38, Disangcopan has been working to support the BTA while simultaneously laying the institutional foundations for the SCSS to continue its work once the post-transition parliament takes office.

It may seem trivial to some, but our efficiency as a support service for the parliament is crucial for the passage of bills such as appropriations for basic services. The parliament may introduce critical reforms like a comprehensive antidiscrimination bill or the BARMM’s complicated agrarian reform plan. All these things go through us, and our staff needs to be fully equipped to facilitate the passage of these much-needed measures.

It’s an exciting time for the Bangsamoro, as a new generation of leaders takes the driver’s seat eager to deliver on the promise of peace. We look forward to witnessing the process of political, social, and economic reform as the people of Mindanao build an inclusive regional government that can bring the benefits of peace and prosperity to all.

Cris Cayon is chief of party, and Janice Fay Sevilla is a communications and reporting consultant, for FORWARD Bangsamoro, a project of The Asia Foundation and USAID in the Philippines. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions
Related topics: Bangsamoro


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