COMMENTARY: What lies ahead for the BTA?

(MindaNews / 24 Feb) — The Commission on Elections officially declared the ratification of Republic Act No. 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (hereafter referred to as BOL) last January 25, 2019.

The BOL is essentially an overhaul of the current regional autonomy framework and without a doubt the transition will be extremely challenging. Needless to say, the newly organized Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) faces a gruelling path ahead.

Mindanao peace activist, Mags Maglana, put it perfectly in a Tweet that for all of us, not just the Bangsamoro, the appointment of BTA members is indeed just the “beginning of another stretch of the road to peace─and possibly a more difficult one.”

Bear in mind that this office will exercise legislative and executive powers over the new and expanded Bangsamoro autonomous region during the transition period. Hence, in the spirit of managing expectations, this immense power vested in the BTA begs the question as to how it should be wielded.

Given the BTA’s transitory existence, should it still pursue the enactment of substantive laws on local government, education, civil service and so forth? Or should the BTA focus primarily on organizing the regional bureaucracy and managing the administrative transition from ARMM to BARMM?

Indeed, it can be argued that given the substantive nature of these proposed laws, it would be more appropriate to have a duly elected legislative body, such as the Bangsamoro Parliament, to draft and enact them according to the legislative procedure mandated by the BOL.

Save perhaps the enactment of a new electoral code, the other matters requiring legislation can wait for the election of the first set of Bangsamoro parliamentarians in 2022.

Certainly however, the most challenging item in the BTA’s challenging to-do-list is the familiarization of the entire Bangsamoro community to the new parliamentary structure of the regional government.

Parliamentary principles and 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.

At this point, the fundamental change brought by the new parliamentary system in the BARMM is worth noting and this is how executive authority is vested and how accountability is determined.

It must be emphasized that the Chief Minister in the BARMM is not directly elected by the people unlike the Regional Governor in the ARMM. This is a totally new dynamic because people will not only be voting their member to the Bangsamoro Parliament, the one who will represent their district in the regional legislature, but they will also be indirectly voting for the potential Chief Minister.

Hence, BARMM voters must not only consider the candidate’s own suitability but also the credibility of his political party or his affiliation to potential Chief Ministers. This is possibly an unfamiliar voting responsibility that must be properly explained to the voters in the BARMM.

The BOL has provisions covering the election of the Chief Minister and the formation of the regional government. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon the BTA to also work on drafting guidelines to oversee the performance of these tasks. Addressing issues such as conflicts of interest, identifying party or coalition consensus, contingencies of a minority government, changes in government mid-term, qualifications of Ministers and so forth, must be guided by administrative standards and principles. This is how a unique Bangsamoro parliamentary tradition is built from the ground up.

Lastly, given the new parliamentary set-up in the BARMM, the Bangsamoro electorate must now be very conscious about executive–legislative balance of power in their parliament. Indeed, utterly more attentive than how everyone in the country are conscious about it in our presidential system. The borderline undemocratic case of a super majority in the Bangsamoro Parliament (similar to that existing in the current Congress) will not bode well for the BARMM.

More importantly, learning parliamentary principles and methods, specially getting up to speed with its lexicon, is absolutely necessary for the Bangsamoro community. It cannot be over emphasized enough that this is a totally new framework which we all need to navigate through. If we do not agree on the same terminologies, then how can consensus-building in the BARMM be even possible?

DELACSE Bangsamoro just recently completed Basic Leadership Seminars for civil society organizations active in various areas within the Bangsamoro territory. I had the pleasure and privilege to facilitate sessions on the fundamentals of a parliamentary system and political party building and all participants agree that a case of “business as usual” will bring disastrous results for the BARMM.

There was a collective sentiment that old malpractices such as leaders making the regional government their “personal employment agency” will even create more unrest in the Bangsamoro territory. Ultimately compromising the BOL’s promise of peace in Mindanao.

Bangsamoro politicians and voters alike must see their role in a parliamentary system. So education and training for the needed changes, specifically those concerning the new parliamentary system of government, is absolutely necessary.

Indubitably, the ratification of the BOL should be a cause for great joy and pride for the whole nation. But our feelings of jubilation and excitement should not overwhelm our sense of reality. The BOL too heralds a fundamental change that none in the Bangsamoro, none in the entire country for that matter, is fully prepared for. Indeed, as the Bangsamoro community moves towards the establishment of the BARMM, both practical and political challenges brought by the institution of a parliamentary system awaits the BTA.

While important matters such as transitional justice, land redistribution, and ancestral domains must never be relegated to the backburner, it behoves the BTA to put premium consideration in the next three years on helping the Bangsamoro community learn the new parliamentary system through which the BARMM will be governed.

And the BTA must bear in mind that the success of the BARMM depends heavily on the performance of the Bangsamoro Parliament. Unavoidably, the Bangsamoro Parliament will only be as good as the quality of its elected members. Therefore, the onus of ensuring the success of the BARMM directly belongs to voters in the Bangsamoro.

If by 2022 the Bangsamoro community have not been properly primed on the parliamentary structure of the BARMM, then the hope and promises brought by the BOL could already be in serious peril. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M is a law lecturer, legislative and policy consultant and a nonresident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government).