DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 September) – Running a government is thrice more difficult than running a revolution, interim Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), concurent chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said.
Murad told MindaNews in a sitdown interview at the MILF’s Camp Darapanan on Sunday that starting a revolutionary organization was “talagang (really) very challenging” but “it has run for decades already so wala na masyadong problema” (there’s not much problem).
Running a government bureuacracy, however, is “mas (more) problematic. Triple yung feeling ko. Tatlong beses” (Three times), he said.
Murad has been at the helm of the BARMM since February 26, 2019 when Mujiv Hataman, then Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) handed over the five-province, two-city regional government to Murad.
But BARMM, created by Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and ratified in a plebiscite early this year, covers more areas than the ARMM: plus Cotabato City and 63 villages in six North Cotabato towns.
The BARMM also has a different government set-up than the ARMM as it is parliamentary in form under a presidential, unitary system.
The 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which runs the BARMM government during the three-year transition period until June 30, 2022 and which Murad heads as interim Chief Minister, was formally inaugurated on March 29 this year, in rites graced by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Your region’s future is now in your hands,” Duterte told BTA officials.
Murad admits it’s difficult to run a government because “walang experience” in governance (we don’t have experience) but he draws from their experience in the MILF as a revolutionary organization. “Leadership din ang main factor,” he said.
He epxlained that within the MILF, they have “always been practising consultative and collective leadership so up to the BARMM” that is what they are following.
In the early days, Murad met the Cabinet twice a week. Now, he says he meets with the Cabinet once a week and reports to the Parliament once a month.
Decision-making, he says, “always comes from the Cabinet.”
“We decide collectively in the Cabinet,” said Murad who lives and works in the BARMM compound on weekdays and in Camp Darapanan on weekends to attend to his other role as MILF chair.
Murad’s Cabinet is composed mostly of the MILF’s Central Committee who are also in the BTA, and those who have been with the MILF peace process for years.
Government in place
Half a year later, what has BARMM achieved?
For Murad, “organizationally, stable na ang organization namin. We have organized all the ministries, fully functioning and then the parliament is also in place and also fully functioning. So basically the government is in place.”
He said they were not able to start new programs because of budget constraints. They inherited the ARMM’s 32-billion peso budget.
Next year, Murad said, the BARMM hopes to receive 70.6 B pesos block grant, inclusive of the five-billion peso Special Development Fund (SDF).
RA 11054 sasy the national government “shall provide an annual block grant which shall be the share of the Bangsamoro Government in the national internal revenue tax collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and collections of the Bureau of Customs.”
The law also mandates the national government to provide the BARMM an SDF for the “rebuilding, rehabilitation, and development of its conflict-affected communities.”
The SDF is 50 billion pesos at 5 billion per year for 10 years and will be used in accordance with the Bangsamoro Deelopment Plan.
In the six-month period, Murad considers organizing the bureaucracy as “the most difficult.”
“Hanggang ngayon, nahirapan pa kami. The challenge in the governance (is) we are forming a ministerial form of government which is under a Presidential unitary system.”
He said even the departments at the national level do not seem to understand the set-up of the Bangsamoro government. “Ginagawa nila, they are treating the (BARMM) ministries na lower unit nila” (like their lower units).
“Hindi ganon” (that should not be), said Murad.
The BARMM is a product of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signedby government and the MILF in March 2014 to allow for a “meaningful self-governance.”
Murad said these problems could have been avoided if the Inter Governmental Relations Board had been set up.
The law provides for the creation of a National Government – Bangsamoro Government Intergovernmental Relations Body (IGR body) “to coordinate and resolve issues on intergovernmental relations through regular consultation and continuing negotiation in a non-adversarial manner.”
The law says the IGR body “shall exhaust all means to resolve issues brought to it” while unresolved issues would be elevated to the President, through the BARMM Chief Minister.
The other inter-governmental boards that are to be established are Philippine Congress–Bangsamoro Parliament Forum for purposes of “cooperation and coordination of legislative initiatives; the Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board which shall “address revenue imbalances and fluctuations in regional financial needs and revenue-raising capacity of the Bangsamoro Government;” the Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation, which shall formulate policies “relating to the Zones of Joint Cooperation in the Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf;” the Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board, which shall be responsible “for coordinating and synchronizing national and Bangsamoro infrastructure development plans;” the Intergovernmental Energy Board tasked to “resolve all matters specified in Section 36, Article XIII of this Organic Law and other energy issues referred to it by the Intergovernmental Relations Body;” and the Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board composed of representatives from the National Government and the Bangsamoro Government to “ensure the integration and harmonization of economic, social, and environmental considerations as vital dimensions of sustainable development policy and practice in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region;”
None of these IGR bodies has been set up.
Murad said they submitted to Malacanang the names of their nominees to the IGR body months ago, before the end of the third month, but government has yet to respond.
He said they have nominated the members and chair of the “Mother IGR” from the side of the Bangsamoro government but the national government is still deciding on who should be there and who will chair it, “either the Executive Secretary or the Cabinet Secretary or the Secretary of Finance, si Sonny (Dominguez).”
Until the “Mother IGR” is constituted, issues between the national government and the Bangsamoro government will not be resolved.
He cited an instance when the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) invited the BARMM’s DPWH but Murad said, “we cannot meet now. Mag-meeting pa ang big IGR, ang Mother IGR para magkaroon ng policies.”
Murad laments that national agencies treat the BARMM the way they treated the ARMM before.
“Para kaming ARMM,” (They’re treating us like we’re ARMM).
He said Senator Ralph Recto even filed Senate Resolution 30, to investigate the status of the implementation of RA 11054.
The Senate Committee on Local Government headed by Senatoer Franciso Tolentino, scheduled the hearing on August 15 but on August 13 cancelled it without any explanation.
Before its cancellation, Murad had written Tolentino to explain, among others, that the Senate hearing was untimely as the BARMM has been there for less than six months, that the national government itself has to account for the implementation of the Bangsamoro law and that the proper venue for what Recto wanted to find out was through the Philippine Congress – Bangsamoro Parliament Forum that Murad said should be set up immediately. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)