BANGSAMORO SPEAKS: Appropriating for the Marawi Compensation Bill

I have read all the versions of the Marawi Compensation bills and I have questions regarding the sourcing of funds or appropriation for the latest and consolidated bill in the Senate.

More than two years have passed when the first Marawi Compensation Bill or House Bill No. 3418 was introduced by Lanao del Sur First District Congressman Ansaruddin Alonto Adiong on August 5, 2019 in the Lower House. One of the good provisions of the said bill is that  50 billion pesos would be allotted as the entire compensation or payment for the Ground Zero displaced persons in Marawi City. It has 10 billion pesos for its initial funding under General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The two sources of remaining funds of 20 billion pesos each will be coming from Philippines Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and from the Philippine and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) respectively. Under the bill, the compensation board will have 10 million pesos as an initial amount which will be sourced from the funds of the National Treasury.

Another similar bill or House Bill No. 3543 was introduced on August 6, 2019 by Congressman Mujiv Hataman of Basilan and Congresswoman Amihilda Sangcopan of AMIN Partylist. The budget proposed for the compensation is 30 billion pesos as principal source of funds. But the same amount will be included in the GAA for the next three years in three equal amounts. Unlike the proposed Adiong bill, for its compensation board, it has a 30 million peso initial budget but funded from the original 30 billion peso fund.

In the Upper House, Senators Miguel Zubiri, Ronald Dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Lawrence Go, and Imee Marcos introduced on March 4, 2020 their Senate Bill No. 1395  which is almost an exact copy or version of the Hataman and Sangcopan bill with the minor amendment that the compensation board will have a maximum  initial working fund of 50 million pesos.

On September 13, 2021, Senator Risa Hontiveros, however, introduced her version. Senate Bill No. 2394. The striking point on this bill is that the compensation will be charged against the current year’s appropriation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) for the Marawi Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program (MRRRP) under GAA. In sum, it has no specific fund or amount that is provided by the bill. The source of funds will depend on what the NDRRMF will receive. Moreover, under this bill, it is the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) Claims and Compensation Committee which is tasked to process claims.

Senator Risa’s proposed bill is similar to the House Bill No. 9925 as per Committee Report No. 1103 as proposed by 197 Congressmen where the TFBM is institutionalized and may source fund augmentation from international governing bodies, foreign aid, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or local government units.

It was only on September 29,2021 that a consolidated bill per Committee Report No. 324 was submitted by Committees on Finance and Senate Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation. This is the so-called Senate Bill No. 2420 which substituted Senate Bill No. 1395 and Senate Bill No. 2394, taking into consideration House Bill No. 9925. Majority of the Senators approved this version. The funds for the compensation will be charged against the current year’s appropriation of NDRRMF for the MRRRP under GAA.  Again,  no specific fund is allotted for the compensation under this bill.

To conclude, I have two big questions on this consolidated bill.  First, will the powerful finance Committee of the Senate headed by Senator Angara adopt the good feature of the previous House bills by appropriating and setting aside a specific budget for the compensation to assure the expecting Maranaws affected by the destructive Marawi Siege? Obviously, the proposed bill, the term compensation bill itself means, it must be provided with appropriated funds for a specific purpose. Otherwise, it will be just an empty bill whose budget depends on the availability of funds from other agencies such as the TFBM and NDRRMF.

Second, when will this bill be certified as urgent for its immediate enactment so that the people of Marawi, or the displaced homeless people will not be waiting in vain?

Sadly, time is against them. But we always trust the leadership of the whole Congress and Senate and the political will of President Duterte such as what he did to save the BARMM entity and the approval of the extension of Bangsamoro Transition Authority transition period. The remaining days to pass the bill are crucial to spare besieged Marawi City from creeping despair and further hopelessness.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Maki T. Datu-Ramos II  from Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, is a former Public Attorney of PAO-Marawi City and Quezon City, Assistant City Prosecutor of the Department of Justice in Makati, and is now a Labor Arbiter in NCR Arbitration Branch)