Imagining the future Bangsamoro through the draft Basic Law  

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 September 2014) — Among the country’s 17 regions, the future Bangsamoro, targeted to be set up by June 30, 2016, will be distinct from all the rest — including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it will replace — because it will be the only region in the country that will run a government through parliamentary means.

The Bangsamoro will also be the only region with an “asymmetric relationship” with the Central or national Government, “reflective of the recognition of their Bangsamoro identity, and their aspiration for self governance” and in accordance with the Constitutional provisions on the creation of autonomous regions.

According to the 119-page draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted to Congress on Wednesday morning, the powers of government are vested in the Bangsamoro Parliament which shall set policies, legislate on matters within its authority and elect a Chief Minister who shall exercise executive authority on its behalf.

The legislative authority shall be exercised by the Bangsamoro Parliament, the executive authority by the Cabinet which shall be headed by a Chief Minister.

The Chief Minister, who shall be elected by a majority vote of the Members of Parliament (MPs), appoints the Deputy Minister from among the MPs, and the members of the Cabinet, majority of whom shall also come from the Parliament.

60 members

Unlike other regions in the country, the Bangsamoro will have a titular head of government, the “Wali” who shall take on “only ceremonial functions.”

At present, the 24-year old ARMM, the political entity set up in accordance with the Constitutional mandate on autonomous regions supposedly in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras, is run by a Governor, Vice Governor, Cabinet and a 24-member Regional Legislative Assembly.

The government and MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on October 15, 2012, with both parties acknowledging that the status quo is “unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, to replace the ARMM.

The parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on March 27 this year, which includes the FAB, the annexes, and other agreements signed by both parties in the 17-year peace negotiations.

As soon as the Basic Law is ratified, hopefully by the first quarter of 2015, the ARMM shall be deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) shall take over and run the government using a parliamentary system, until officials of the regular Bangsamoro Government are elected in mid-2016.

During the transition period, the BTA, which will serve as the interim government. will have 50 members, appointed by the President. Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) in the Bangsamoro territory, women and settler communities and other sectors “shall have representatives in the BTA.”

The Bangsamoro Parliament, whose MPs will be elected in May 2016, will be composed of 60 members “unless otherwise provided by the Parliament.”

MindaNews learned that the original 97-page draft submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to the Office of the President on April 22, proposed an 80-member Parliament.

Reserved seats

The final draft provides that the Parliament’s seats will be allocated at 50-40-10: 50% for party representatives through a system of proportional representation; 40% for single-member districts; and 10% reserved seats for sectoral representatives.

Of the reserved seats allocated for different sectors, two seats each are specifically reserved for “non-Moro indigenous communities (Lumads or Indigenous Peoples) and settler communities.” Women shall also have a reserved seat.

The final draft BBL also provides for the creation by the Bangsamoro Parliament of an office or ministry for Indigenous Peoples (IPs), to be headed by IPs.

The Bangsamoro will also have its Bangsamoro Electoral Office which shall be part of the Commission on Elections, to, among other powers, register and accredit regional political parties.

The similarity with the rest of the elective officials in the country is that officials of the Bangsamoro will also have a three-year term and a maximum of three consecutive terms.

The BTC draft proposed a five-year term, for a maximum of two terms.

Administration of Justice, Police, Representation

The justice system in the Bangsamoro is also unique in the entire country in that it will consist of a Shari’ah law “which shall have supremacy and application over Muslims only;” the traditional or tribal justice system for the IPs in the Bangsamoro territory; local courts; and alternative dispute resolution systems.

The Bangamoro will also have a “Shari’ah High Court.”

The final draft law also provides for a Bangsamoro Police Force which shall be part of the Philippine National Police, that will be “organized, maintained, and utilized for the primary purpose of law enforcement and maintenance of peace and order in the Bangsamoro.”

The final draft also proposes representation of the Bangsamoro in the Central or National Government – with at least one qualified Bangsamoro appointed as Cabinet Secretary, at least one in each of the departments, offices and bureaus holding executive, primarily confidential, highly technical, policy-determining positions, and one Commissioner in each of the Constitutional bodies.

It also proposes that a Moro be named Justice in the Supreme Court and to two seats in the Court of Appeals.

The 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) actually proposed the same representation in the Cabinet and Judiciary. But it also sought a sectoral representative in Congress.

RA 9054 which transformed the 1996 political document into a legislation, provides for the same provisions of representation by appointment to the Cabinet, GOCCs and the Judiciary but did not provide for the appointment of a sectoral representative to Congress.

Powers

The final draft BBL lists the reserved powers exercised by the national government and the exclusive and concurrent powers exercised by the Bangsamoro government, as well as provisions for inter-governmental relations.

Fourteen matters are listed under concurrent powers, 58 under exclusive powers and 16 other exclusive powers previously granted to the ARMM under RA 9054 and RA 6734.

The Malacanang-reviewed draft in June had proposed that the terms “reserved,” “exclusive” and “concurrent” be deleted and revised as recommended by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) which said these terms “are only for political documents.”

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews the listing should not be deleted since this is the heart of the agreement. The listing was returned.

Funding the Bangsamoro

The draft law provides that the Bangsamoro is entitled to all fund sources as enumerated in the law as well as the powers to create sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees and charges as indicated.

It also provides for the sharing scheme between the Bangsamoro and the national government, in the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources within the Bangsamoro: 100% for the Bangsamoro for non-metallic minerals such as sand, gravel and quarry resources; 75% for metallic minerals; and 50% for fossil fuels –petroleum, natural gas, and coal- and uranium.

Funding support from the national government, a major aspect in the success or failure of a new entity, was the last topic tackled by the government and MILF for the draft BBL.

Mohagher Iqbal, BTC chair and MILF peace panel chair told MindaNews on September 7 that the last provisions whose text would be finalized, although these had been agreed upon already, were on funds the Bangsamoro would need to run the government: the block grant, special development fund and the transition fund.

The final draft submitted to Congress provides for an annual block grant as share of the Bangsamoro in the national internal revenue of the government, at 4% of the net national internal revenue collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, less the internal revenue allotment of local government units.

MindaNews learned that the formula for the block grant indicated in the original BTC draft was “5% of the sum of the collection of Bureau of Internal Revenue less the IRA of LGUs, and the collection of the Bureau of Customs.”

Under the Article on Rehabilitation and Development, the final draft BBL provides for a Special Development Fund (SDF) for rehabilitation and development in the Bangsamoro, which shall be released upon the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, at P7 billion “for the first year following the ratification of this Basic Law” and beginning with the second year, the SDF shall be P2B per year for five years.

The BTC draft proposed an SDF equivalent to one per cent of the current national budget, estimated at around P19 billion, every year for a period of 10 years.

Same amount, circa 1989

MindaNews learned that the Malacanang-reviewed draft in June proposed to change the SDF to a total of P10 billion at P2 billion a year for five years. The final draft added P7 billion for the first year and P2 billion a year for the next five years.

The P2B-a-year-for-five-years fund however, is the same amount provided for the first ARMM administration in 1989, as “annual assistance” for five years for infrastructure projects, as provided for under Section 10 of the Transitory Provisions of RA 6734, approved on August 1, 1989 by then President Corazon Aquino.

Twenty-five years later, under the administration of her son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the final draft law proposes an additional P7 billion SDF for the first year (2015), but proposes the same amount of P10 billion spread across five years at P2B a year starting with the second year (2016-2020).

Based on the consumer price index, the value of P2 billion in 1989 is P8.7 billion in 2014.

The BTC draft also proposed a “Normalization Trust Fund” dedicated to addressing the need of combatants and their communities.

The Annex on Normalization provides that the government shall provide the necessary funding for the normalization process. It also said the parties agreed to “allow either party to access funds from donors for the operations of the difference mechanisms under the normalization process to supplement the budgetary requirements provided by the GPH.”

The BTC draft did not specify an amount but merely provided for the adoption of a “financing scheme criteria” for the use of the fund to cover “capacity building and institutional strengthening, impact programs to address imbalance in development and infrastructure, and economic facilitation for return to normal life affecting combatant and non-combatant elements of the MILF, indigenous peoples, women, children, and internally displaced persons.”

The final draft does not include this provision.

For the “organizational activities of the BTA, organization of the bureaucracy, hiring of personnel, and the exercise of functions and powers of the BTA,” the BTC draft proposed P20 billion.

The Malacanang-reviewed draft in June 2014 recommended to change the amount to 500 million pesos.

In the final draft submitted to Congress, the amount was pegged at one billion pesos or 1/20th of the BTC-proposed amount.

In addition, the final draft law provides that the current year’s appropriations for the ARMM is to be transferred to the BTA and supplemental budget “may be appropriated by Congress to support the transition.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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