COMMENT: Transition That Will Work Imperiled (5)

III. What Will Work (Continued 2: Key to Transition)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 May)– The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) is the present holding the future of the Moros like the proverbial bird for the hand to crush or to set free. Principles for the drafting of a sound Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) have been agreed. Yet, the Transition Commission (TransCom) is at risk of contending with elements that can have the BBL born with disabilities or aborted. Foremost among these elements are time, money and its fate in the Congress and later in the hands of spoilers.

BTA: Key to Transition

Granted! The Transcom will be able to draft and the Congress to enact a sound BBL as provided in the basic considerations agreed in the FAB. That’s only half the work done. The other half – the more difficult and most critical – is the setting up of the transitional Bangsamoro government and preparing the Moro leaders for the successful take off. A sound BBL can make the transition work; but only with the proper time, financial support and orientation of leaders will it work to empower the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to entrench the Bangsamoro.

As proposed in the MDA 2011 and seen in the agreements in the FAB and ATAM, the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro will go through two periods – first, the pre-transition period during which the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be drafted, enacted and ratified; second, the transition proper during which preparations will be made according to the BBL for the installation of the regular Bangsamoro government.

As already discussed, the Transcom, the Congress and the Bangsamoro electorate are the key players in the pre-transition period. The only key player in the transition proper is the BTA.

How will BTA accomplish this role? As agreed in ATAM:

First, its function:  The “core function” of BTA is to prepare “for the transition of the ministerial government in the Bangsamoro”, particularly, (1) to “exercise governance functions devolved to the Bangsamoro in accordance with the Basic Law” and (2) to “set up the institutions and mechanisms necessary to establish the Bangsamoro ministerial government [I.F]”. This is elaborated in [II.B.3] and will be spelled out in detail in the BBL, as [II.B.4] implicitly provides.

As elaborated in [II.B.3], “The BTA shall serve as the main mechanism for the MILF’s leadership in the Bangsamoro during the transition process. Once the Basic Law comes into force, and the BTA established, the devolved powers of the new political entity are vested in the government of the Bangsamoro.” This is the beginning of transition proper.

Second, its organization, membership“The Bangsamoro Basic Law shall provide for the organization and composition of the BTA. Its members shall be appointed by the President [II.B.1].” And, it “shall be MILF-led [II.B.2]”.

Third, its term: The BTA shall continue to perform its function as interim Bangsamoro Government until the duly elected officials of the Bangsamoro shall have qualified into office in 2016 [II.B.5].”

Imperatives for BTA

The imperatives for the sound take off of the Bangsamoro are discernible from the second sentence of [III.B.3]: “Once the Basic Law comes into force, and the BTA established, the devolved powers of the new political entity are vested in the government of the Bangsamoro;” and the second sentence of [I.F]: “… set up the institutions and mechanisms necessary to establish the Bangsamoro ministerial government”. Evidently:

  • Bangsamoro is the new political entity. Powers are devolved to it. “By whom” and “From whom?” By negotiated agreements between Government and MILF, from the Philippine government as enacted by the Congress.
  • The devolved powers are vested in the Bangsamoro government only after the BBL has been ratified and the BTA has been established.
  • These powers are provided in the BBL.
  • The BTA is the Bangsamoro government in transition to which the devolved powers are first vested for it to set up for the regular government.
  • The transition is from the presidential to the ministerial form of government.

As a new political entity, the Bangsamoro is founded on a charter or basic law – the Bangsamoro Basic Law. It is assumed that the BBL will (a) declare the objectives, principles and policies of the Bangsamoro government, (b) define the ministerial form of government and its asymmetric relation with the Central Government, (c) list the powers devolved to Bangsamoro, and (d) set the transition budget committed by Government. These will define the immediate task of the BTA and determine its ability to do this task.

Transition is not an OIC setup wherein officers-in-charge are appointed to run already well-established offices or government units vacated or declared vacant in emergency situations. The OICs are “fillers” serving uncompleted terms of office; unless new rules and instructions are issued governing their functions, they follow the established rules and modalities of the offices or government units concerned.

Transition is a necessary process for change. It is the phasing out of the old to be supplanted by the new; or, the development of the new from the tentative to the permanent. While both will involve new theories and experimental processes, the first may involve only the revision of old systems and norms while the second will mean the establishment of an entirely new order.

The transition of Bangsamoro from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is not a phasing out but the establishing of a new political entity. The BBL will repeal, not just amend, RA 9054; it will abolish the ARMM then create the Bangsamoro. The BTA is not in the mold of an OIC but an interim government created by law with specific mandate in the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro – agreed by Government and MILF which are assumed to be embodied in the BBL Transitory Provisions.

As an interim government, the BTA is ministerial in form having an interim legislature, an interim prime minister as the head of government, and interim ministers to head the different ministries. How the BTA will actually be initially organized and composed will be provided in the BBL and its members “appointed by the President” [ATAM II.B.1].

Primary Mandate

The first task of BTA is to “set up the institutions and mechanisms necessary to establish the Bangsamoro ministerial government” and with these govern Bangsamoro in transition [ATAM I.F]. What these institutions and mechanisms and their modalities are and how to set them up will be provided in the BBL – the only guide is the BTA.

FAB VII.9, “… The Bangsamoro Transition Authority may reorganize the bureaucracy into institutions of governance appropriate thereto (referring to the “ministerial form and cabinet system of government)”, hints what might be done.

This is the primary mandate of the BTA — to set up these institutions and mechanisms right and to govern well the Bangsamoro in transition according to the objectives, principles and policies and asymmetrical relation with the Central Government written in the BBL. This is an assurance that the Bangsamoro, when the regular government takes over, is well founded and best prepared to solve the Bangsamoro problem. The task is demanding and daunting. This transition is the one that will work.

Inherent Imperatives

Expected to compound the difficulty of the task are imperatives inherent in establishing an entirely new entity. In the case of Bangsamoro, these can be among the imperatives:

First, BBL will provide for the institutions with their mechanisms and modalities suitable to the ministerial government. For the BTA to set them up, make them operational and operate them in the interim will demand time, money and expertise.

Second, it is to be expected that the BTA members and key officials will need proper on-the-job orientation and training regarding their functions in running the ministerial government.  This will demand time, money and advisers – most probably foreign.


Third, the offices under the ministries may be restructured and their personnel have to be reoriented. These will demand time, money and expertise.

Fourth, subject to provisions in the BBL according to [ATAM II.B.4] the Bangsamoro local government constituent units, if not restructured, have to be reoriented to the ministerial form of government together with their officials. This will demand time, at least, and money and expertise, at the most.

Time: Definitive Element

Government as well as some sympathetic aid agencies will be able to provide the funds for the transition.  Foreign countries with parliamentary system and ministerial form of government will surely provide the expertise needed to assist the BTA, if requested. But they cannot provide time; they cannot restore lost time. Time will, as ever, run its course mindless of what men and nations do.

Time is the definitive element during the transition period of the Bangsamoro. How will it determine whether the transition will make the Bangsamoro the political entity MILF has envisioned? The longer the time and the better used, the better transition will work. The lesser the time and the more poorly used, the more the transition that will work will be imperiled.

As it has already been discussed, the failure of the Parties to sign the three remaining Annexes during their 37th exploratory talks last month had already set back the time table of the TransCom by four months. Even if the negotiation on the Annexes can be finished this month, the Transcom can start drafting the BBL only in July; June will be for the consolidation of the Annexes and the FAB into the Comprehensive Agreement.

The delay will mean a six-month time lag in the FAB roadmap and just three years for the pre-transition and the transition proper. Granting that drafting, enacting and ratifying the BBL will be done – with due diligence under rigid deliberation, not under undue pressure in haste — in 18 months or one-and-a-half years, that will leave 18 months, not two years, for the transition proper.

What if the Transcom and the Congress will need more time to do their respective tasks? No time limit has been set for them to do these. Should such a need arise, the transition proper has to be sacrificed since the BTA cannot exist beyond June 2016 — after the election and qualification of the regular Bangsamoro officials [ATAM II.B.5]; or, more precisely, after “the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government [FAB VII.10]. 

Vital Questions

Will 18 months be enough for the BTA to do its primary mandate while coping with the imperatives for the transition that will work? Will it? What if the transition proper is shortened to one year or, worse, to less?

The lack of time due to time lost in the delay in agreeing on the Annexes and the possibility of more unforeseen delays during the pre-transition period will imperil the transition that will work.

In retrospect, the 7-year transition – one year pre-interim, six years interim – proposed in the MILF MDA 2011 was most ideal. When MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim agreed to lower to three years the transition period (MindaNews, July 10, 2012), he and the MILF Central Committee must have decided that the transition that will work is manageable in three years. It is interesting to ask Murad, the Central Committee or the MILF Panel about the present realities and the possibility of a one-year or shorter transition proper.

Unless an unforeseen event or situation intervenes, the Bangsamoro will replace the ARMM by June 30, 2016. President Aquino on stepping down will point to it as one of his legacies. Will it solve the Bangsamoro problem? That will be a puzzle. For MILF the task to make it work will just begin. Bangsamoro has to succeed. Should it fail, Aquino, the succeeding presidents and Manila leaders will wash their hands: We gave you the rope to scale the wall barring your way; you used it to hang yourselves.

Will the Government and MILF Panels seal the Annexes during their 38th Exploratory this month? That will stop the present time hemorrhage. Will more bleeding be avoided to prevent the sapping of life out of the transition? As the saying goes, “Time is of the essence.” The essentialness of time on the imperatives of the transition that will work should not be taken for granted.

(To Be Concluded: IV. Post Script)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])