From ARMM to BARMM: ARMM’s elected in BTA; ARMM with BTC as “caretakers”

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 July) — The elected officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be able to complete their three-year term of office until June 30, 2019 even if the ARMM is abolished earlier than that.

The Bicameral Conference Committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) amended some provisions on the transition to the new autonomous political entity that they have named Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), to allow the 25 elected ARMM officials to continue to serve the region until their terms expire.

The ARMM is deemed abolished upon the ratification of the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM) or “Bangsamoro Organic Law” — what used to be known as the BBL.

The plebiscite for ratification if signed into law by President Duterte this month is January 2019. The President was supposed to have signed it on July 23 in time for his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), after the Senate and House of Representatives ratify the bicam’s report. The Senate ratified it but the House failed to do so due to a leadership row on Monday. It was finally ratified on Tuesday.

The President vowed in his SONA that he would sign it into law within 48 hours after receipt of the copy of the bicam’s approved version.

The plebiscite for ratification if signed into law by President Duterte this month is January 2019. The President was supposed to have signed it on July 23 in time for his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), after the Senate and House of Representatives ratify the bicam’s report. The Senate ratified it but the House failed to do so due to a leadership row on Monday. It was finally ratified on Tuesday.

The President vowed in his SONA that he would sign it into law within 48 hours after receipt of the copy of the bicam’s approved version.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas and Senate Majority Leader Juan MIguel Zubiri, the co-chairs of the Bicameral Conference Committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law pose with Bangsamoro Transition Commission chair Ghazali Jaafar after aprpoving the final version of the proposed Bangsamoro law on 18 July 2018. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

The ARMM Governor, Vice Governor and 23 members of its Regional Legislative Assembly or RLA (the 24th member passed away) will continue in office as members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) until the expiration of their term on June 30, 2019.

As provided for in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on March 27, 2014, the BTA is the governing body during the transition period.

MILF leads

The body tasked through an Executive Order to draft the Bangsamoro law — the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) composed of 11 members nominated by the MILF and 10 by the GPH — had proposed that the MILF, as the principal party to the CAB, “shall lead the BTA, in its leadership and membership.”

The bicam’s approved version of Article XVI, Section 2 now provides that the MILF “shall lead the BTA without prejudice to the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front in its membership.”

The MNLF has several factions, among them the MNLF under founding chair Nur Misuari and the MNLF under Yusoph Jikiri and Muslimin Sema, which has three of the government-nominated seats in the BTC. Misuari declined to nominate representatives to the BTC.

An earlier version of this section during the bicam deliberatons proposed that the MNLF will also participate in the “leadership and membership” of the BTA but this was amended to “membership” in the final version.

The proposed OLBARMM provides that the President will appoint the 80 members to the BTA and that “in addition, the elected officials of the Autonomous Regional Government in Muslim Mindanao shall automatically become members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and shall serve until noon of the 30th of June 2019.”

It also provides that “non-Moro indigenous communities, youth, women, settler communities, traditional leaders, and other sectors shall have representatives in the Bangsamoro.”

The CAB provides that upon the abolition of the ARMM, the 80-member BTA takes over to run the new autonomous political entity that will be parliamentary in form and will exercise legislative and executive powers. The executive authority will be exercised by the interim Chief Minister who will be appointed by the President.

The BTA will run the Bangsamoro government until the election of its first set of officials in May 2022, synchronized with the next national elections.

From ARMM to BTA

But the BTC that drafted the proposed law included a section under Article XVI — Section 5 on “Continuity of Government” — which provides that the BTC shall “continue to exist to wind up and caretake the administration of the region” until the BTA is constituted to “foreclose any political interregnum in the governance of the region.”

The CAB does not provide for a “caretaker” or a transition to the BTA but provides for a direct transition from ARMM to BTA to the new autonomous entity.

Both houses of Congress, however, adopted the BTC-drafted Section 5 when they passed House Bill 6475 and Senate Bill 1717 on May 30 and 31.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte receives a copy of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) from Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chair Ghazali Jaafar in a turnover ceremony at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on July 17, 2017. Also in the photo are (from left) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Irene Santiago, then chair of the government ‘s Peace Implementing Panel King Rodriguez/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

When the bicam tackled this section during the first days of the July 9 to 13 meeting, it was parked for further discussion, sparking resentment from some BTC members who lobbied for the retention of that section.  The BTC-proposed section was nearly taken out between July 11 (Day 3) and July 12 (Day 4) of the bicam’s deliberations with one Commissioner telling MindaNews “wala na” (it’s gone) on July 12 and another saying, about an hour later, “may bagong formula” (there’s a new formula).

On July 11, members of the ARMM’s RLA, who were around since Day 1, got what they lobbied for: guaranteed seats in the BTA although only until June 30, 2019, coinciding with the expiration of their three-year term of office.

On July 12, the bicam decided to add the two other elected officials — Governor and Vice Governor — in the BTA, again to serve until June 30, 2019 — “kasi unfair naman” (because it is unfair) because the ARMM Governor and Vice Governor are elected officials, too, Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, told MindaNews.

The ARMM Governor and Vice Governor are elected as a tandem, across the region’s five provinces and two cities while RLA members are elected only by congressional districts. The RLA is composed of three assemblymen per district.  The ARMM has eight districts – two each in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sulu and one each in Basilan and Tawi-tawi.

80 plus 25; 25 plus 20

The inclusion of the ARMM’s elected officials in the transition to the BARMM is not without precedent.

In 2015, the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, chaired by then Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, amended the BTC-drafted provision on BTA membership to include the ARMM’s 24 assemblymen, precisely to allow them to complete their term until 30 June 2016. No BBL was passed under the Aquino administration.

Sema said the new formula they adopted on July 12 is 105  or  80 + 25 for the BTA, with the 25 representing the ARMM’s elected officials but serving only until 30 June 2019.

She said the incumbent ARMM officials can enrich the process and share their experiences in the BTA. “At least ma enrich din nila. They can share their experiences,” she said.

The Bicameral Conference Committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law on their fourth session on Thursday, 12 January 2018. at the Nograles Hall, House of Representatives in Quezon City. The session was suspended at 12:50 a.m. Friday, 13 July, for resumption on July 17. MIndaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Meanwhile, the BTC-drafted Section 5 was retained but amended. Sema explained that the caretakers would be 45, represented by 25 of the ARMM’s elected officials and the 20 BTC members (the 21st resigned on the first week of the Marawi Siege), “habang wala pang naa-appoint si Presidente” (while the President has not appointed the BTA members).

“ARMM will be caretaker plus BTC. Pag nag BTA, plus 25 until June 30 lang sila” (When the BTA is constituted, it will be 80 members plus 25 ARMM officials until June 30, 2019 only), Sema said late evening of July 12.

“Pag na-constitute na ang BTA, wala na yung BTC” (Once the BTA is constituted, the BTC will be out), she added.

The BTC-drafted Section 5 now reads, under the bicam’s final version, that “to foreclose any political interregnum in the governance of the region,” the  25 incumbent elected officials of the ARMM and the BTC “shall act as caretakers of the administration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region until the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is constituted.”

The BTC’s mandate under Executive Order 8 issued November 7, 2016 by President Rodrigo Duterte which amended an earlier EO issued by then President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, says the BTC will cease to operate “upon the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in a plebiscite called for such purpose.”

The OLBARMM provides that the plebiscite will be held “not earlier than 90 days or later than 150 days” after the effectivity of the law.

Appointment ban

Senate Majority Leader and bicam co-chair Juan Miguel Zubiri had earlier estimated the plebiscite to be held in November or December.

If signed within July, the law will take effect sometime in August, 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette and in at least two national newspapers of general circulation and one local newspaper of general circulation in the autonomous region.

Deputy Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Nabil Tan, chair of the government’s peace implementing panel in the peace process with the MILF, told MindaNews late evening of July 11 that in their visit to the Commission on Elections a day earlier, the Comelec informed them it needs five months to prepare for the plebiscite.

The five-month period from August 2018 is January 2019.

The President has until March 28, 2019 to appoint members of the BTA before the ban on appointment or hiring of new employees takes effect. The ban is from March 29 to May 12.

The midterm elections is on May 13, 2019. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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