What makes the new Bangsamoro political entity “more than ARMM”?

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 14 July) — Flashing the peace sign shortly after suspending the Day 3 session at 10:50 p.m. on Wednesday with “95% of the work done,” Zubiri reiterated what he told MindaNews earlier that afternoon: “1,000 per cent better than ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).

Last month, he said the same thing as he allayed apprehensions that Senate Bill 1717 would produce a Bangsamoro entity that would not comply with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement between government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and would even be “less than the ARMM” that it seeks to replace.

“We are 100% better than ARMM now. Maybe 1,000 %,” he told MindaNews at the sidelines of the Eid’l Fitr celebration at the SMX in Davao City on June 16, even as the Senate and House versions had been criticized as having “mangled” or “watered down” the proposed BBL drafted by the 21-member Bangsamoro mTransition Commission (BTC).

Senate Majority Leader Juan MIguel Zubiri on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 said the Bangsamoro law that is shaping up as of the third day of the deliberations of the Bicameral Conference Committee may not be fully compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) but “it’s ARMM plus definitely.” MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Zubiri reportedly realized what kind of law they had passed when more criticisms were hurled against it in the run-up to the Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam) meeting on July 9 to 13.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on June 7 described as “very diluted” the two versions and expressed fears that what is supposed to be the enabling law of the CAB would create a Bangsamoro political entity that will be less autonomous than the ARMM.

But Murad expressed hope they would regain the provisions they lost during the Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam) meeting on July 9 to 13, among them the essence of what they are fighting for: the right to self-determination, parity of esteem and asymmetric relationship, among others. These key principles of the Bangsamoro struggle were deleted from the law on Day 1 of the bicam meeting.

On Wednesday, July 11, Zubiri told MindaNews the autonomous political entity that was shaping up from out of the three-day deliberations of the 28-member bicam on what has been named by both as the Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) — is 1,000 per cent more than ARMM,” citing the adoption of the House and BTC version on 75-25 sharing on taxes, fees and charges collected in the Bangsamoro. The Senate version pushed for a 50-50 sharing with Zubiri voting against it.

New Bangsamoro entity: from ARMM to BARMM, from BBL to OLBARRM

Early morning of Friday, July 13, after suspending the session at 12:50 a.m., Zubiri expressed confidence the bicam version that is “99% done” is acceptable to the MILF.

Why BARMM is “more than ARMM”

Zubiri on Wednesday cited features of the BARMM that will make it “more than ARMM,” among them the parliamentary system of government and the annual block grant representing 5% of the net national internal revenue collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.

He said the bicam agreed to remove the conditionalities attached to the release of the block grant. “There are no preconditions but there are post conditions” such as auditing by the Commission on Audit and a budget approved by Parliament. “In other words, leaders cannot just get the money and say ‘I want to buy this, I want to buy an airplane.’ It has to go  through auditing and budgeting.”

“It’s an automatic appropriation similar to the IRA (internal revenue allotment)” and the Bangsamoro government need not go to Congress, the Department of Budget and Management for their budget, unlike what the ARMM government has to go through every year.

Zubiri acknowledged there were bicam members who objected to dropping the conditionalities but “we said, let’s give them the opportunity to chart their own path, let’s not put biases right away in our mind kasi kung may bias ka, kahit anopang sabihing formula hindi uubra (because if you are biased, whatever formula it may be, won’t work) because they’d think you are this kind of people… As far as we are concerned, we’re educated human beings.”

He said the Department of Finance on Tuesday night “was very naughty… they tried to put in a provision on the computation of the block grant that would have lessened the amount by almost 10 billion because mga net of net.”

Next year, he said, the Bangsamoro government will be getting 60 billion pesos at the very least,  20 billion more than what the ARMM is getting this year.

Parliamentary form, Human Rights Commission

What also makes it “more than ARMM,” he said is that the mode of government – parliamentary system as agreed upon in the CAB and as written down by the BTC — “was never touched.” Both houses carried the BTC provision on parliamentary system but according to Zubiri, during the bicam, Senator Chiz Escudero, questioned its constitutionality.

He said he explained to Escudero that retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban had said “that what is not explicitly allowed in the Constitution may be allowed. and he said because it is not explicit that you cannot have a parliamentary government, therefore in the Bangsamoro it may be allowed, including the Cordillera.”

Another factor that makes the proposed Bangsamoro “more than ARMM,” he said, is that the bicam had restored the BTC provision on the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission that will be an independent body similar to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The House and Senate versions had earlier reduced it into an office under the CHR.

Autonomy framework overturned

But the autonomy framework that the CAB and BTC provided and which is supposed to be far superior than the ARMM framework, has effectively been overturned.

Based on the CAB,  the BTC had proposed an autonomy framework of power-sharing, one that delineates powers into exclusive for the Bangsamoro, concurrent with the Central Government and Reserved for the Central Government, to establish clear lines of accountability. For example, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) implements programs in the ARMM, such as the listing of beneficiaries of the 4Ps, through its Region 12 office based in Koronadal, South Cotabato but it is ARMM that gets blamed for the listing that included some mayors’ wives as beneficiaries.

In the Marawi siege,  the purchase and distribution of relief goods was/is done through Region 12 DSWD.

Zubiri said the bicam opted to list the powers of the Bangsamoro, reached after “six hours of deliberation” of the sub-committee group of Senator Aquilino Pimentel III and Senator Franklin Drilon with the House and BTC members.

Reminded about the autonomy framework envisioned by the CAB, Zubiri replied: sometimes what you want in the CAB… may seem right but is not constitutional.”

Zubiri said Drilon was worried that the BTC wording is “not constitutional because there’s no other document in the Philippines which spells out the powers of government except for the Constitution. In other words you are making this equivalent to the Constitution. Because in the Constitution, it’s very explicit: what is not mentioned as power of government is exclusive to government but

here it goes both ways: what is not explicitly mentioned as a reserved power of (national) government and exclusive power of the Bangsamoro can be opened to discussion. Eh hindi pwede yun, legally it cannot be. It’s not constitutional.”


On the issue of territory, the bicam had to go to Malacanang to ask Duterte to break the deadlock.

The CAB provides that part of the proposed core territory, subject to ratification in a plebiscite, are the six Lanao del Norte towns and 39 barangays in North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in the supposed expanded ARMM in 2001.

These are predominantly Moro areas where some of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) stay, the most prominent of them Abdullah  Macapaar aka Commander Bravo.

Zubiri said territory is a major issue of concern “due to the nature of security in these areas … If we make a mistake on the decision on core territory, there could be an outbreak of hostilities in the areas na hindi isasama(that will not be included)so that is a deep concern because I don’t want anyone to die.”

Duterte ruled in favor of the House version of double majority — that even as these towns and barangays vote yes for inclusion into the BARMM, they can only be part of the new region with the consent of the mother units — Lanao del Norte for the six towns and the municipalities for the villages.

Zubiri said he considers as “ARMM minus” the issue on policing “because wala talaga akong magawa. Instruction talaga ng ating pangulo. (I can’t do anything about it. It’s the President’s instruction). He was very strict with policing and the military.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)