BBL’s post-ratification scenario: BTC to serve as caretaker of Bangsamoro region

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 June) — While the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) versions of the Senate and House of Representatives have been described as  “very diluted” or “mangled” due to the deletion or amendment of essential provisions, a new provision added by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL was retained by the two houses: BTC commissioners will serve as caretakers of the new political entity immediately after the BBL is ratified, purportedly to ensure “continuity of government.”

The new provision is not mandated by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the 2014 peace agreement signed by the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and supposedly the basis for the BBL. It is not also mandated by Executive Order 8 which created the BTC, the MILF-led 21-member body tasked to draft the BBL and composed of  11 members nominated by the MILF and 10 members nominated by the government.

READ: Members of Bangsamoro Transition Commission finally named 

The BTC is now composed of only 20 members as Commissioner Samira Ali Gutoc, a government nominee, resigned within the first week of the Marwi Siege.

Leaders of the House of Representatives meet with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission on May 28 to discuss proposed amendments to the BTC-drafted Bangsamoro Basic Law. Photo courtesy of Bangsamoro Transition Commission

The BTC-drafted BBL provides that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), an 80-member body that will be appointed by the President, would, in accordance with the CAB, serve as the “interim government or the governing body in the Bangsamoro during the transition period.”

The transition or interim period for the establishment of the Bangsamoro “shall commence upon ratification of this Basic Law.”

The MILF, as the principal party in the CAB, will take the helm of the BTA “in its leadership and membership.”

The BTC-drafted BBL inserted under Article XVI (Bangsamoro Transition Authority), Section 5 on “Continuity of Government” which states that in order “to foreclose any political interregnum in the governance of the region,” the BTC, “an independent body created by E.O. 08, shall continue to exist to wind up and caretake the administration of the region until the BTA is constituted.”

Why this insertion of a provision on what would appear to be an interim body to an interim body?

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim explained to MindaNews in an interview in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao on June 7, that “during their discussion (BTC),  nakita nila na there will be a gap between the term of the ARMM elected officials (supposedly until June 30, 2019) sa ratification ng BBL.

Murad said that if the plebiscite is held in November or December, as Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said is the target for the plebiscite to ratify the BBL, there is a gap between ratification and the time the BTA shall have been appointed and constituted.

The ARMM is deemed abolished upon ratification of the BBL.

MindaNews sources say the appointment of the 80-member BTA may take some time, noting that it took President Duterte nearly three months to appoint the 21-member BTC.

Murad said that based on their conversations with the President, the BTA will likely run  from June 30, 2019 until June 30, 2022, when the first officials of the Bangsamoro shall have been elected.

Asked why the BTC added this provision on BTC as caretaker, BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar, concurrent 1st Vice Chair of the MILF, told MindaNews in a text message Monday: “I think it is necessary.”

“Isn’t this self-serving” MindaNews asked,  noting that the Commission that drafted the law will be the same entity that will serve as caretakers of a region that will now be in multiple transition — transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the supposed caretaker BTC, transition from caretaker BTC to BTA, and from the BTA, transition until officials to the regular government are elected.

“It was decided by the BTC. I did not recommend. It was approved by both Chambers (of Congress),” Jaafar said.

EO 8 creating the BTC was issued by President Duterte on November 7, 2016. It amended EO 120 and EO 187 issued by then President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

EO 120, signed on December 17, 2012 said the BTC “shall cease to operate upon the enactment by Congress of the BBL.” But EO 187, issued on August 20, 2015 amended that section by stating it will cease to operate “upon the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in a plebiscite called for such purpose.”

Duterte’s EO 8 did not amend Section 5 so the BTC is to cease operations upon the ratification of the BBL.

EO 187 amended Section 3e by adding another function of the BTC: “to prepare and draft a Code of Parliamentary Procedures for the future Bangsamoro Parliament and a Bangsamoro Administrative Code for the consideration of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.”

Duterte’s EO 8, however, amended Section 3 of EO 120 as amended, which excluded this drafting provision. Section 3e now cites another function of the BTC.

According to the BTC-drafted BBL, the BTA shall be composed of 80 members, all of whom shall be appointed by the President. It also provides that non-Moro indigenous communities,  youth, women, settler communities, traditional leaders, and other sectors shall have representatives in the BTA.

The House of Representatives’ BBL version — HB 6745 — amended the section by adding the phrase, “without prejudice to the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and other sectors in its leadership and membership.” The Senate retained the BTC provision.

The House and Senate versions retained the provision that nominations to the BTA may be submitted to the Office of the President.

Also retained were the sections that state that legislative and executive powers in the Bangsamoro during transition shall be vested in the BTA.

“During the transition period, executive authority shall be exercised by the interim Chief Minister, who shall be appointed by the President as such, while legislative authority shall be exercised by the BTA,” the proposed law states.

It also provides that all powers and functions of the Bangsamoro Government as provided in the law is vested in the BTA during the transition period and “for purposes of mechanisms for intergovernmental relations with the Central Government and local governments units in the Bangsamoro, the BTA shall be deemed as the Bangsamoro Government for the duration of the transition period.”

Asked if he will be the Chief Minister, Murad replied: “That will be decided by the Central Committee” and will depend on the final version of the BBL that the  Bicameral Conference Committee will produce.

“Actually the option for me is I will take the BTA as chairman and then also when the regular government will come, I might join the parliamentary election … so as President of the party, I will also be the Chief Minister of the regular government. But then I can also be — kasi ang decision din ng Central Committee is we will continue — the MILF will exist side by side with the government. So … that will depend now on the Central Committee (what) our collective decision will be,” he said.

When the BTA is set up, the MILF will transform into a “non-government organization engaged more on socio-economic … so it will be parang side by side with the government in implementing socio-economic programs.”

Murad said that if the MILF Central Committee will decide  “that we need to strengthen the organization, then I might just stay in the organization or if we need to strengthen the governance, then I need to be in the governance.”

He said the decision would depend on “what will be the BBL…. how strong is the BBL.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews