CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/29 November) — I have just read the House version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in its entirety. Offhand, I would have to say it is a fine piece of legislation. With some refinements, I believe it basically does justice to the historic claims and entitlements of our Mindanaon brothers and sisters.
Much as I deplore the hand of Imperial Manila in manipulating the peace process over the years—with minimal input from non-Moro Mindanaons, with “asymmetrical” participation of other regions (e.g. Northern Mindanao wasn’t in the loop), the panels on both sides of the table, along with Congress, should be congratulated for translating the complex issues into policy and actionable provisions.
Moreover, although I begrudge the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for obtaining the comprehensive agreement on which it is based at the point of a gun, I salute their success in causing the center to yield to the periphery and cede substantial power, authority, and control.
As for the Central Government, ceding such sweeping powers, authority, and control in favor of an insurgent movement bespeaks a splendid brand of statesmanship rarely shown by any administration—not even by P-Noy’s mother when she and her cabinet were niggardly towards the Moro National Liberation Front during the failed 1987 Peace Talks.
No doubt there are doubters, but it is edifying to find it affirming and reinforcing the principles of autonomy and subsidiarity to guide public administration in no uncertain terms.
In other words, I believe the provisions of this draft BBL are basically sound, although I do have misgivings about the possibility that empowering features of the Local Government Code (R.A. 7160) may be watered down or removed altogether by superseding legislation.
Misgiving No. 1: I rather think most Mindanaons and Bangsamoro people will find certain terms or usages in this proposed law exotic or even strange and unfamiliar—especially “parliament” referring to its legislative governing body, or “parliamentary system” to differentiate it from the presidential system familiar to all.
These terms wouldn’t be sounding new or exotic today if the DILG and others had bothered at the outset to explain the nature of barangay governance—which is in fact parliamentary. No one has pointed out that the Barangay Assembly is in fact a local parliament with similar although not identical powers as the regional Parliament.
Few today are familiar with the meaning or usage of these terms, let alone the functions or powers inherent in them. It would have helped to explain that even as the Bangsamoro Parliament enacts laws for the entire Bangsamoro Region, the Barangay Assembly below initiates ordinances for the immediate community or barangay.
In other words, there’s nothing new about a parliament or the parliamentary system in our political order. It was supposed to have been in place and in operation ever since the Local Government Code of 1991 became law. But the poor record of compliance by barangays all around, plus its lousy enforcement, has rendered these terms unfamiliar and virtually unknown.
Hardly anyone knows, for example, that a parliamentary system is characterized by the blending of the powers of the three branches of government under one office: the prime minister’s or chief minister’s; under the presidential system, the three powers are held separate and exercised by separate officials, constituting a built-in mechanism for checks-and-balances.
Thus, in the Bangsamoro Government, the three branches—executive, legislative, judicial—are headed by one and the same official, the Chief Minister, which makes him a very powerful official. The same goes for the government below, where the Barangay Chairman is chief executive, chief legislator (sanggunian chair), and chief adjudicator (lupon chair).
Because there is no separation of powers, there is no built-in mechanism for ensuring transparency and accountability in the parliamentary government. The three branches cannot check each other or stop one another’s abuses. And that’s where the Parliament comes in.
In the barangay, the parliament is the Barangay Assembly with an all-inclusive membership; meaning, the people themselves oversee the decisions and acts of their local government. Collectively, they are the check-and-balance mechanism, which is why people should actively participate in their Assembly.
But if the people don’t know this or are inattentive and apathetic, too bad; their resources will be misused, their money misspent or stolen, and their government turned into a family enterprise.
And this should be a fair warning to the BBL crafters. The empowering features of the Local Government Code should be integrated into it, and there should be lots of information, education, and communication programs to capacitate Bangsamoro people for their role as participants and collaborators, watchdogs and quality controllers, of their own government starting below upward. More next time.
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]