Ex-military officer is first Christian in Bangsamoro Cabinet
COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao, Philippines — A former military officer who fought the Moro rebellion in Central Mindanao has joined the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to lead its Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC).
The BARMM interim chief minister, Murad Ebrahim, signed the appointment of retired Army Col. Dickson Hermoso, former spokesperson for the 6th Infantry Division (ID).
Hermoso, currently an assistant secretary at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (Opapru), is the first Christian to hold a top position in the newly created BARMM. He was installed on July 15.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Hermoso said he was willing to give up his post at Opapru so he could lead the MOTC if the law prohibited him from holding concurrent positions.
President Duterte appointed Hermoso as Opapru assistant secretary in January 2017.
Ebrahim said several prominent people recommended Hermoso to lead the MOTC, among them Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.
“We find [Assistant Secretary] Hermoso qualified and capable to effectively manage the MOTC … He is the first Christian in the Cabinet,” Ebrahim told the Inquirer in a text message.
Hermoso, on Tuesday, said: “[My appointment is] true to what is the essence of the Bangsamoro—that it is a convergence of Moro, Christian and IP (indigenous peoples) communities.”
After almost 30 years in the military, he retired in 2016 as inspector general of the 6th ID. His division fought the war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Central Mindanao.
The government and the MILF, chaired by Ebrahim, signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014 after four decades of conflict that killed over 120,000 people, among them civilians.
The CAB’s key component is the creation of a new autonomous region, now known as the BARMM.
The BARMM replaced the 29-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in February following the ratification of Republic Act No. 11054, or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
Hermoso was known among groups involved in the peace process in Mindanao.
With a rank of Army major in 2004, he served as secretariat head of the government’s coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities.
“Ever since, peace-building has been my passion. War is never a solution,” he said.
In 2013, Hermoso, then the 6th ID spokesperson, attributed the absence of clashes between the military and the MILF for two years to the continuing peace advocacy that both sides had conducted with ground forces.
The 6th ID’s area of responsibility in Central Mindanao, including Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces, had been the scene of the fiercest encounters between government soldiers and MILF fighters, including the 2000 all-out war of then President Joseph Estrada.
As BARMM minister, Hermoso vowed to continue his peace advocacy while promoting transparency and initiating reforms in agencies attached to his office, including the Land Transportation Office (LTO), one of the regional agencies perceived to be plagued by corruption.
“One of the biggest challenges is how to restore the public’s trust in the LTO,” he said.
Hermoso would also oversee the operations of airports and seaports in the region composed of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Cotabato, Marawi and Lamitan.
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