RIVERMAN’S VISTA: Hopes raised with the Bangsamoro Organic Law

1st of a series

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 01 September) — President Duterte finally signed on July 26 the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or Republic Act No.  11054. The BOL should have been the highlight of the President’s State of the Nation Address but its signing was aborted by the powerplay in the lower house which saw former President Arroyo taking the speakership from Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.

On the day of the signing, I praised the President, the leaders of the House of the Representatives, and the Senate, the administration coalition, and the opposition in pulling what I have described as a “whole of country project and we pulled it off.” This is not to say that the law has no problems. There are still a few legal and political issues left, including non-compliance by the government of some of its commitments in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. But from the seriously flawed versions that came out of the House and the Senate, with potentially dozens of big gaps and problems, we have a law with less than five major issues. That’s an achievement and the country should celebrate that.

The BOL is a product of four administrations (Ramos, Arroyo, Aquino, and Duterte), of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Transition Committee, and the indigenous peoples inside and outside the Bangsamoro that sought to have their voices heard. It is a product of a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives from the administration and opposition – Zubiri, Drilon, Angara, Fariñas, Sema, Dimaporo, and Lobregat, etc. who worked together to forge a consensus even as they represented diverse, conflicting interests. The President himself got involved at the right time and resolved an important legal issue, in my view in the right way.

This is the first of my series on this law. I will present both a summary of the law and its features as well as provide friendly critique, at all times suggesting ways forward where there might be legal, policy, and practical obstacles in implementing this important law.

Overview of the BOL

The signed BOL, officially known as the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, aims to put an end to the decades old Muslim rebellion in Mindanao. Its avowed objective is“to establish a political entity, provide for its basic structure of government in recognition of the justness and legitimacy ofthe cause of the Bangsamoro people and the aspirations of Muslim Filipinos and all indigenouscultural communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to securetheir identity and posterity, allowing for meaningful self-governance within the framework of  the Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic ofthe Philippines.”  

The BOL consists of 18 articles defining the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, general principles and policies, the powers and structure of the Bangsamoro government, Wali, basic rights, judtice system, national defense and security, fiscal autonomy, regional autonomy and patrimony, rehabilitation and development, plebiscite, amendments and transitory provisions. 

Article III delimits the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. As defined, the Bangsamoro shall include all geographical areas of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), municipalities that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite, the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan, and all other contiguous areas where a resolution of the local government unit or apetition of at least ten percent (10%) of the registered voters in the area seeks for their inclusionat least two (2) months prior to the conduct of the ratification of this Organic Law. All inland waters found inside the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region are included. The municipal and regionalwaters of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region shall extend up to fifteen (15) kilometers andnineteen (19) kilometers, respectively, from the low-water mark of the coasts that are part ofthe Bangsamoro territorial jurisdiction.

Article IV (General Principle and Policies) lists down the guiding principles that shall govern the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in all aspects of socio-economic and political governance. These principles include:  territorial integrity and allegiance which mandates the Bangsamoro as an integral part of the Republic and its people an inseparable part fo the Filipino nation; self-governance which allows the Bangsamoro people to chart their own destiny; democratic political system which allows the Bangsamoro people to participate in a democratic political system; an electoral system consistent with national electoral laws and democratic electoral participation; establishment of a civilian government; promotion of social justice; adherence to international agreement and treaties; respect for the rights of non-Moro Indigenous peoples; and respect for the freedom of choice.

Article V delineates the powers of the national government and the Bangsamoro Government. Thus, the national government exercises all powers not granted to the Bangsamoro government by the Constitution. Section 2 specifies the powers granted to the Bangsamoro Government. The more significant powers by the Bangsamoro Government are administration of justice, administrative organization, ancestral domain and natural resources, budgeting, civil service, classification of public lands, customary laws, eminent domain, human rights, indigenous people’s rights, public works and structure, tourism development and many more.

Article VI (Intergovernmental Relations) lays down the mechanism that will define the relationship between the national government and the Bangsamoro government for cooperation, coordination and issue resolution. The President shall exercise exercise general supervision over the Bangsamoro Government to ensure that the laws are faithfully obeyed.  An Intergovernmental Relations Body is created to coordinate and resolve issues through consultation and negotiation in a non-adversarial manner. There is also established a Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum for purposes of cooperation and coordination of legislative initiatives. An Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board shall address revenue imbalances and fluctuations in regional financial needs and revenue-raising capacity. Other bodies to be created are the Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation, Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board, Intergovernmental Energy Board, Bangsamoro and the Sustainable Development Board. 

A Council of Elders shall advise the Chief Minister on maters of governance. The Council of Elders consists of the Chief Minister, members of Congress from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, provincial governors and mayors, representatives of traditional leaders, non-Moro indigenous communities, women, settler communities, youth and Bangsamoro communities outside the Bangsamoro Autonomous regions. Other sectors are likewise to be represented in the Council.

The authority of the Bangsamoro Government over its constituent units is guaranteed by the BOL with privileges already enjoyed under the Local Government Code not to be diminished. As far as practicable, the Bangsamoro government shall participate in national governance with the former to be represented in departments, agencies, commissions, bureaus of the national government.

Ratification and implementation challenges

Overall, I think that the enactment of the BOL is a positive development for peace and development in Mindanao. With this law, Congress is allowing the Bangsamoro the highest form of autonomy. What that is will unfold only as the law is implemented.

As I have written elsewhere,  the success in enacting this controversial but necessary law is a sign of hope that we can rise above our bickering and petty politics. Now that it is enacted, the challenge is that of implementation.

There will be challenges in transitioning from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the Bangsamoro. Staffing the new governance entity with competent, technical people will not be easy. Getting the national government agencies, especially the Department of Budget and Management, to change their behavior from one control to one of respect, support and autonomy, will not come overnight. 

There are many legal, policy and political mines along the way, starting with obstacles to its ratification and potential legal and constitutional challenges before the Supreme Court. Bangsamoro leaders need technical and political skills and strong political will to avoid or detonate those mines. Based on what I have seen as a government negotiator with the MILF during the GMA years and observing how Bangsamoro leaders and technical advisers have conducted themselves to get the BOL enacted, I am confident that a vibrant Bangsamoro will be the outcome of this law.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Tony La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean and currently professor at Ateneo School of Government, as well as Constitutional Law professor of Xavier University, University of the Philippines College of Law, Polytechnic University of the Philippines College of Law, De La Salle University College of Law, San Beda Graduate School of Law, Lyceum College of Law and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Graduate School of Law. He was also a member of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF from January to June 2010 following the aborted signing of the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008).