BEYOND THE BEND: Asserting Bangsamoro Autonomy through the BOL

The implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) will face many challenges, both legal and practical. But I believe the entire country is rallying behind this landmark law because many are hoping that this new shot at regional autonomy will be successful this time around.

The purpose of the BOL is to fulfill the mandate of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) to strengthen regional autonomy for the Bangsamoro. Obviously, the BOL is merely a partial fulfilment of the CAB, but I will argue here that it is a sufficient legal platform to assert Bangsamoro autonomy.

The CAB specifically provides that the relationship between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government shall be asymmetric. This prescription aims to distinguish the Bangsamoro regional government with other local government units. Meaning, its relationship with the national government should be fundamentally different from the relationship of other local governments to the central bureaucracy.

Whilst the word “asymmetric”to describe the relationship of the national government and the Bangsamoro government is not found in the BOL, the statute itself is proof that the Bangsamoro regional governance infrastructure vastly differs from the current local government structure under the Local Government Code of 1991.

First of all, the BOL establishes a ministerial regional government structure with a strong mandate for a disciplined political party system. This framework is unique to the Bangsamoro. Critically however, when employed for the purpose it was designed for, the parliamentary structure makes maintaining good governance over region more probable.

Moreover, the BOL also institutes a robust fiscal autonomy regime, the centrepiece of which is the block grant. This fiscal framework is also unique to the Bangsamoro and when utilized properly and strategically, can indeed lead the Bangsamoro to genuine self-governance.

Therefore, the word “asymmetric” may be absent in the BOL, but the regional governance structure established by this law is certainly distinct from the regular local government apparatus. The political and fiscal autonomy of the Bangsamoro government is clearly more substantial that other local governments.

Furthermore, the creation of various coordinative bodies such as the National Government-Bangsamoro Government Intergovernmental Relations Body, the Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum, Fiscal Policy Board, Joint Body for Zones of Joint Cooperation, Infrastructure Development Board, Energy Board and Sustainable Development Board are the features of the BOL which clearly demonstrate that the Bangsamoro government has an elevated status over other local governments in terms of its relationship with the central government.

Through these intergovernmental relations (IGR) mechanisms the Bangsamoro government can be at par with the national government when it comes to the decision-making process involving particular development and governance mandates. This is so contrary to the status of other local governments where most often than not, decisions have been made for them by the national government.

Furthermore, the BOL specifically commands that the Bangsamoro government shall be represented in the departments, offices, commissions, agencies and bureaus of the national government that implement and enforce policies, programs, and projects of the national government in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Such a statutory command essentially characterizes the Bangsamoro government as a partner of the central bureaucracy within the Bangsamoro region. Contrary to the treatment of local governments as mere agents of the national government.

These particular IGR mechanisms in the BOL, through the mandate to coordinate and resolve issues on intergovernmental relations, can empower the Bangsamoro government to fend off unwarranted national government intrusion in regional affairs.

Crucially, given its access to the block grant, it is paramount for the Bangsamoro government to have a firmer claim on its autonomy than the regional government it is set to replace. Otherwise, this vastly increased fund transfer may also fail to deliver the development outcomes many of the people in the Bangsamoro region are hoping for.

By design, the fiscal autonomy provisions and the IGR mechanisms in the BOL are venues for the Bangsamoro government to assert true autonomy against the traditional domination of the central government. Nevertheless, if the new generation of Moro leaders will not see themselves as equals with the national politicians and bureaucrats, then the pathologies of the past regional regime will persist.

The political and fiscal governance mechanisms instituted in the BOL are true platforms to exercise effective self-governance. The caveat of course is that the Bangsamoro leadership must assert complete compliance of the BOL. Even if doing this means battling with the national government again, but this time within the confines of the IGR framework.

Indeed, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman, Murad Ebrahim, is absolutely correct that governing the region will be a tremendous challenge for the new leaders of the Bangsamoro government.

Parliamentary procedures, inter-agency relations and management, values-based leadership, fiscal policy formulation and sustainable development management are just a few examples of the competencies the new Bangsamoro regional government leaders and officials need to learn under such a limited timetable.

Obviously, the focus now is to make sure the BOL wins in the coming plebiscite. But transitioning the MILF from a “revolutionary organization” to being responsible for the full implementation of the BOL, which began years ago, must continue at a faster pace.

It is vital that they get an early start in their preparation for assuming the reins in the Bangsamoro government. Asserting Bangsamoro autonomy requires capacity-building to be an utmost priority now. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.He researches on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism)