A New Generation Takes the Driver’s Seat in Bangsamoro

April 27, 2022 The Asia Foundation
A New Generation Takes the Driver’s Seat in Bangsamoro
Show Notes Transcript

This week, we talk to the BARMM's Attorney Abdel Jamal Disangcopan on how his parliamentary staff is part of a new generation of young professionals building peace in the Bangsamoro. Read the the full blog:

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (00:03):

I'd like to believe there are more of people like me, because there are so many areas that you can really help out. But this is really for the long haul and this is really not a short term that you just want to say, "Oh, it's exciting. I'm here in the post-conflict transition period." You're in it to win it for the long win.

John Rieger (00:20):

From the Philippines, The Ups and Downs of Building the BARMM, this week on InAsia, from The Asia Foundation. I'm John Rieger.

Tracie Yang (00:28):

And I'm Tracie Yang. It's an exciting time in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, as a new generation of young leaders is stepping up to complete the transition from armed conflict to peace, to self-governance.

John Rieger (00:41):

We have one of those young leaders with us today. Attorney Abdel Jamal Disangcopan is the 38 year old Head of the Statutory Committees Support Service, the SCSS... One of the behind the scenes agencies of the transition that's working to build the institutions of self-governance in the BARMM.

Tracie Yang (00:58):

Also joining us is our own Cris Cayon, Head of The Asia Foundation's Forward Bangsemora Project. Abdel and Chris, welcome to InAsia.

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (01:07):

John, Tracy, it's a pleasure to be here.

Cris Cayon (01:08):

Thank you for having us.

John Rieger (01:10):

So Abdel, there's a very nice profile of you in this week's InAsia blog, in which we are reminded that armed insurgencies are hard to end and that peace can often be fragile. The BARMM is now in the third year of its peace agreement with Philippine National Government. Bring us up to date.

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (01:27):

Exciting times really. The analogy I would give is, the BARMM right now is like a teenager. So there's a lot of conflicting emotions and thoughts right now. There are changes that are slowly being rolled out... Setting up offices and passing crucial, essential laws to set up the bureaucracy in time for the regular parliament to kick in come 2025. There's a lot of excitement, a lot of hope. I'm just really happy that I'm in the thick of things and doing my part in the entire process.

John Rieger (01:59):

You grew up in Mindanao, in a Muslim family. But you had an established career in Manila when you decided to drop everything and moved back home. Are you seeing a lot of young professionals come home to Mindanao?

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (02:10):

I'd like to believe there are more of people like me because there are so many areas that you can really help out. So whether it be in the form of public administration or even in human resource management, even to some basic administrative and logistical support, you can really find a place here. But you cannot come back here if you don't have the right mindset, that this is really for the long haul and this is really not a short term that you just want to say, "Oh, it's exciting. I'm here in the post conflict transition period." You're in it to win it for the long win.

Tracie Yang (02:45):

Well let's get into the weeds a bit here and talk about the agency you head. The Statutory Committees Support Service. What does the SCSS do?

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (02:56):

So the SCSS is one of the permanent BTA, the Bangsemoro Transition Authority, parliament offices. We provide the whole gamut of support... Technical and administrative support. We prepare matrices with respect to the bills that are referred to the committees. We also secure the venue. We also ensure that the MP's, the member of the committees come in and participate. We also keep the Zoom recordings because it's hybrid meetings now. We also prepare the minutes, the transcripts, and we see that as a crucial service in order for the bills... Will be passed into laws.

Tracie Yang (03:34):

Do you have the staff and the resources you need?

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (03:38):

Such a good question.

John Rieger (03:40):

Way to go, Tracie.

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (03:42):

As always, if you work in government long enough, you know that budgetary constraints is a real thing.

Tracie Yang (03:48):


Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (03:48):

This Statutory Committee Support Service has 16 legislative committees and each committee has a dedicated secretary. But what's amazing about working here right now, is the ability of the people to really... We have this word called, diskarte, no? Diskarte is like being resourceful. So even though limited by funds, we are still able to provide the necessary people to compose a team in each committee. And a big part of it is because we were able to carve out the necessary job descriptions of each staff, which is a new one, no? Mind you, John, Tracie, this is a new office that the former region did not know about. So I really took it upon myself to really understand how to allocate and make use of the resources efficiently. But I do hope still... And I hope they can hear this... I do hope that they're going to still increase budget and funding because 16 committees and there's only 50 of us. That's really too low.

Tracie Yang (04:51):

That's a huge undertaking. What's it been like to build an agency like this from scratch?

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (04:58):

Oh my gosh. What is amazing about this transition government right now is that there's a lot of leeway. A lot of discretion given to us to really carve out how committees are running. I mean, sure, we do study how the parliaments are doing in other parts of the world. We still compare with the National Senate and the National House of Representatives. But we do want to make it our flavor as our own to tailor fit on the needs of our banks and moral government. So this is really the first time that there's a parliament in the entire Philippines. We're still patterned after the American... In terms of the system of government. And we are really doing trial and error and happy to say, less errors right now. That's what keeps it exciting. I'm sorry, I keep on saying exciting, but you should come here.

Tracie Yang (05:47):

No, it is exciting.

John Rieger (05:47):

Cris Cayon, let's turn to you. The BARMM Project is fundamentally about self-governance, but it has also attracted a lot of outside support, including your own Forward Bangsamoro Project. What can an outfit like The Asia Foundation do to support the transition?

Cris Cayon (06:05):

Well, the support release stems not just because we have the current Bangsamoro Government, the parliament now. And it's not just the project I lead, which is Forward Bangsamoro. We have been there and in the most difficult times in the peace process, in the more difficult times of conflict... At least two all-out wars. So really it's all about The Asia Foundation becoming part of that journey... Conflict to peace to self-governance. That's part of what we have right now as a competency. We have the institutional memory... How it was before the parliament was created through [WL 00:06:42]. And now we are here trying to find our way to supporting this new self-governance phase of the peace process.

John Rieger (06:49):

Cris, The Foundation has been a long time partner in the peace process, as you've said. And that process has definitely had it's up and downs. For example, last year, the controversial decision was made to postpone the planned 2022 elections until 2025. So where are we now? Are we up or are we down?

Cris Cayon (07:10):

I think we're up. But what that also means is we will definitely encounter a down. So requesting for an extension of the Bangsamoro Government, the parliament, was made middle of last year. And that definitely is one of those scary ones because...

John Rieger (07:29):

It's a setback.

Cris Cayon (07:30):

Yeah, it's a setback, but it's a setback that had also many advocates for it. It's really a state-building project within the Philippines. And you cannot just have three years for that. So having no elections... As for the parliament, is providing the needed space to have people like Abdel and other young people who's decided to come back home, to continue that investment into the foundational aspects of this bureaucracy.

John Rieger (08:02):

Abdel, help us get a better sense of the basics of this institution-building process. What are some of the more important measures that have been adopted so far in the BARMM?

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (08:12):

In the Bangsamoro Organic Law, they actually identified the codes for the transition government to enact the Bangsamoro Education Code, the Civil Service Code, the Administrative Code. And there are four more that are actually lined up. So these are, the Internal Revenue Code, the Local Governance Code, the Electoral Code and the Indigenous People's Code.

John Rieger (08:33):

Those are pretty fundamental.

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (08:34):

There's also the Bangsamoro Economic Development Council, even an official Bangsamoro song. Because a crucial part of the peace process is all about the Bangsamoro identity. So the parliament is busy with a lot of bills and resolutions to tackle. And our work is really cut out for that.

John Rieger (08:56):

With so much on your plate. Do you ever feel a sense of panic?

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (09:02):

To be honest, John, you are like my staff. My private secretary, Christine, she always asks me that. But there's no time to panic actually.

Tracie Yang (09:12):

Too busy.

John Rieger (09:14):

The BARMM's Abdel Jamal Disangcopan and The Asia Foundation's Cris Cayon. Thank you both for joining us today.

Abdel Jamal Disangcopan (09:22):

[foreign language 00:09:22] as we say... It was really a pleasure talking to you.

Tracie Yang (09:26):

That's our show for this week. You can read more about the SCSS and the ongoing transition in the BARMM in this week's InAsia blog.

John Rieger (09:34):

And don't forget to subscribe to the podcast. Add an institution to your own life. Until next time, I'm John Rieger.

Tracie Yang (09:41):

And I'm Tracie Yang.

John Rieger (09:42):

Thanks for listening.