THINK TALK: Possibilities, Uncertainties with the Special Geographic Area in the BARMM

MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 18 January) – On December 10, 2022 I spoke to Dr. Kadil M. Sinolinding Jr., one of the members of parliament (MP) of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in the BARMM. I was particularly interested on how the Regional Parliament will apportion the 63 barangays of the Special Geographic Area (SGA) into geo-political subdivisions or entities.

The good MP responded by saying that the 63 barangays from the municipalities of Pigcawayan, Midsayap, Aleosan, Pikit, Kabacan, and Carmen, all of North Cotabato, shall be created into eight municipalities.

A few days after, the media bureau of the Regional Parliament released the information that the Regional Parliament, through the “government of the day,” filed eight bills subdividing the 63 barangays into eight municipalities. The latest that I learned was these bills had passed second reading.

The bills are:

  1. Parliamentary Bill (PB) 129 creating the municipality of Pahamudin out of 12 barangays of Pigcawayan which opted to join the BARMM during the February 6, 2019 plebiscite. These are the barangays of Balacayon, Buricain, Datu Binasing, Datu Mantil, Kadingilan, Lower Pangangkalan, Libungan Toreta, Matilac, Patot, Upper Pangangkalan, Lower Baguer, and Simsiman.
  2. PB 130 creating the municipality of Kadayangan out of 7 barangays from Midsayap, namely: Central Labas, Kapinpilan, Malingao, Mudseng, Sambolawan, Tugal, and Tumbras.
  3. PB 131 creating the municipality of Kabalukan out of 8 barangays from Midsayap, namely: Damatulan, Kadigasan, Kadingilan, Kudarangan, Nabalawag, Olandang, Macasendeg (Pikit), and Dungguan (Aleosan).
  4. PB 132 creating the municipality of Northern Kabacan out of 7 barangays from Kabacan, namely: Buluan, Nangaan, Pedtad, Sanggadong, Simbuhay, Simone, and Tamped.
  5. PB 133 creating the municipality of Kapalawan out of 7 barangays from Carmen, namely: Kibayao, Kitulaan Langogan, Manarapan, Nasapian, Pebpoloan, and Tupig.
  6. PB 134 creating the municipality of Malmar out of 7 barangays from East Pikit, namely: Balungis, Batulawan, Fort Pikit, Gokotan, Nabundas, Nalapaan, and Nunguan.
  7. PB 135 creating the municipality of Tugunan out of 8 barangays from West Pikit, namely: Balong, Bualan, Kolambog, Lagunde, Macabual, Manaulanan, Pamalian, and Panicupan.
  8. PB 136 creating the municipality of Ligawasan out of 7 barangays from South Pikit, namely: Bagoinged, Barungis, Bulol, Buliok, Gli-gli, Kabasalan, and Rajamuda.

These bills authorize the Interim Chief Minister of the BARMM to appoint the interim municipal officials who will serve until the synchronized election in 2025.

Until these bills shall become laws we are not sure if the appointed officials, especially the local chief executives, are empowered to appoint employees of the local government units. Under normal circumstances, appointed officials in acting capacities, or officers-in-charge, do not have appointing powers. However, there is nothing that may prevent the Regional Parliament to provide in the law the exercise of those powers by the interim officials. It is also possible that the Interim Chief Minister shall centrally appoint all the LGU employees who will compose the skeleton workforce that will man the different offices inherent in the created municipalities.

The other uncertainty is, whether or not, the employees to be appointed shall be governed by the national civil service laws pending passage of the BARMM Civil Service Code into a regional law.

Some BARMM ministries have already made known the items available for their offices in the SGA. One of them is the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government, which I am more familiar with because my second child is working in this Ministry. However, all the items available do not require eligibilities and experiences which are normal pre-requisites for employment in government offices outside the Special Geographic Area of the BARMM.

Is the non-inclusion of corresponding eligibilities and experiences temporary while the BARMM Civil Service Code is not yet passed into law? Or, are the appointments of non-eligible employees to be stamped “temporary” until they have acquired the appropriate eligibility on or before 2025?

There are good employment opportunities for local residents in the SGA considering the requirements of the eight municipalities to run and manage the affairs of local governance and delivery of basic services. In addition, the regional ministries shall also establish their respective municipal offices in these areas.

From all indications the SGA shall be created into another province of the BARMM. However, only Congress is empowered to create a province due to the constitutional provision that automatically apportions at least one legislative district per province. The Constitution is clear that only Congress can apportion or create legislative districts. What the Regional Parliament can do is to pass a resolution urging Congress to create the said province and legislative district. MP Kadil Sinolinding Jr. hinted that the municipalities of Pagalungan and Datu Montawal in Maguindanao del Sur may be included in the new province to ascertain its territorial contiguity.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) requires 80 members of parliament to be elected at large in the BARMM provinces and cities. With the possible creation of the SGA into a new province, the BARMM shall have seven provinces and three cities, namely: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, SGA and the cities of Cotabato, Lamitan, and Marawi.

The Regional Parliament shall create two parliamentary districts in each of the 10 geo-political entities or a total of 20 parliamentary districts shall be formed. The top four candidates from each parliamentary district garnering the highest votes shall be declared winner. There will be 80 proclaimed Members of Parliament (MPs).

In a parliamentary form of government, the MPs shall elect from among themselves the Chief Minister and two Deputy Chief Ministers. Members of the Regional Cabinet may also come from the Members of Parliament or from trusted members of the majority party in the Regional Parliament.

I asked MP Sinolinding if it is in order that the BARMM Local Governance Code shall be enacted first before the bills creating the eight municipalities should be passed into law. My point is: it is the BARMM Local Governance Code that defines the income, area, and population of the municipalities to be created. He responded by saying that either bill can go on its own course as one is not a pre-requisite to the other. I stand pat on the logic of the point I was raising.

Another concern which must be made clear in the beginning is the appointment of employees in the SGA. If they are to be appointed on “Temporary” status there should be a moratorium for them to acquire the appropriate eligibility which should be logically until 2025 only.

I am of the view that the initial volley of employees should rather be eligible and highly competent because they are paving the way for effective local governance to take roots and are in fact charting the course of history and destiny for the Bangsamoro.

Likewise, the BARMM Local Governance Code and Civil Service Code should not be inferior from existing national laws. To do so would be to insult the intellect of the Bangsamoro.

I, for one, cannot accept that the Bangsamoro is not competitive in all aspects of the human endeavor given all other considerations equal.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a planning consultant and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school. He can be contacted at mauganmosaid6@gmail.com.)