GETTING READY. Public school teachers in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) undergo orientation on Tuesday (Feb. 8, 2022) in Cotabato City for smooth national and local elections in the region. The orientation was simultaneously held at the BARMM government center and the Notre Dame Village High School, both in Cotabato City, on the observance of minimum health protocols. (Photo courtesy of MBHTE-BARMM)

COTABATO CITY – As part of preparations for peaceful, safe, and orderly national and local elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the region’s poll body and education department jointly held a series orientation for public school teachers serving as election board members.

“This is to ensure smooth conduct of balloting come May 2022 national and local elections,” Minister Mohagher Iqbal of the BARMM Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education (MBHTE) said in a statement Wednesday.

The forthcoming May 9 political exercise this year is the first regular election that BARMM is directly participating in after its formation in January 2019.

On Tuesday, speaking to reporters at the sideline of the day-long orientation at Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex inside the BARMM center here, Iqbal said a total of 200 teachers attended the orientation facilitated by MBHTE and Comelec.

“Being our first, we want it to be the best. We want to set the bar to deliver an honest, orderly, and peaceful elections (HOPE),” Iqbal said.

The same orientation was also held at the Notre Dame Village High School for teachers on the observance of minimum health protocols.

“I cannot do it alone, neither the Comelec can do it. The only chance we can achieve this HOPE is through the cooperation of our teachers who will serve as members of the electoral board or MBHTE supervising officers,” Iqbal added.

Forty-five of the participating teachers were from the city, 135 from Maguindanao Schools Division I and II, and 20 from the BARMM's Special Geographic Area or villages in North Cotabato that are now part of the fledgling autonomous region.

Similar orientations will also be done in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi in the coming days, Iqbal said.

Iqbal admitted that elections in the autonomous region have ever since been tagged as critical.

“Mostly, if not all, the provinces in the defunct ARMM then were considered hot spot and there were no substantial changes at present,” he said.

Unlike in the past, Iqbal is hoping that teachers serving in this year’s polls will no longer be subjected to threats, intimidations, and violence.

Due to threats and intimidation, he said some teachers decline to serve during elections.

“With the coming of the BARMM, a people-centered leadership will be a game-changer. It has been the mantra of the BARMM government to conform to the principle of moral governance,” Iqbal said.

“Part of moral governance is providing our people the opportunity to choose their leaders freely. Free from all forms of intimidation and undue influence,” he added.

Last year, the MBHTE and Comelec signed a memorandum of agreement to ensure that the rights of BARMM teachers and other personnel who will serve in the 2022 elections are protected.

The BARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; the cities of Cotabato, Lamitan, and Marawi; and the 63 villages in six towns of North Cotabato. (PNA)