DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 December) – Lanao del Norte Rep. Khalid Dimaporo has filed the fourth bill proposing an extension of the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) but unlike the first three bills that proposed the resetting of the date of the first regular election of the BARMM from May 2022 to May 2025, House Bill 8222 is proposing May 2028 instead.
Dimaporo told MindaNews that if the purpose of the extension is to ensure the success of the normalization process, which includes, among others, the decommissioning of weapons and combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), “an extension to 2025 may not be enough.”
He cited two major points: extension to 2025 “does not take into consideration the possibility of delays due to a shift in (new Presidential) administration,” and there is not enough budget for the Normalization track due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dimaporo explained that moving the Bangsamoro election to 2025 means the Annex on Normalization “must be completed by October 2024, the Comelec deadline to prepare for a Bangsamoro 2025 election.”
“This means the extension is only 29 months, from May 2022 to Oct 2024,” he said.
Reckoned from June 30, 2022, the supposed end of the transition period as mandated under Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, October 2024 is 28 months away.
The law provides that the body tasked to govern the BARMM during the three-year transition period is the MILF-led 80-member Bangamoro Transition Authority (BTA) appointed by the President.
Dimaporo stressed that he does not believe an extension is needed to fulfill the mandate of the BTA. “There is no excuse not to pass the Bangsamoro Revenue Code and the Bangsamoro Electoral Code before October 2021,” Dimaporo said.
The BTA is tasked by law to enact these priority legislations: Bangsamoro Administrative Code, Bangsamoro Revenue Code, Bangsamoro Electoral Code, Bangsamoro Local Government Code and Bangsamoro Education Code.
Only the Administrative Code has been passed.
Dimaporo recalled that that they included in the Bangsamoro law a “provision to make it clear the normalization track can continue without prejudice after the Bamgsamoro Election.” But he acknowledged that “speakers have argued that the political track and the normalization track go hand-in-hand.”
“I do not fully agree, but nevertheless filed my bill to give an alternative for Congress to consider,” Dimaporo said.
Dimaporo filed HB 2222 on December 14. The three other bills filed in the House of Representatives fixing the date of the first Bangsamoro election to May 2025 are HB 8116 authored by Antique Rep. Loren Legarda and HB 8117 by Maguindanao 2nd district Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu filed on December 1 and HB 8161 filed by Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez on December 7.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier signified support for an extension of the transition period until 2025, according to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
No bill has been filed in the Senate on the subject of extension of the Bangsamro transition period as of December 18. Congress is now on recess and will resume sessions on January 18.
From January 18 until it adjourns sine die on June 4 are only 39 Monday to Wednesday session days.
Factors to consider: new administration; lack of funds
Dimaporo explained that the proposed extension to 2025 for the government to succeed in complying with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed between government and the MILF in March 2014, “does not take into consideration to possibility of delays due to a shift in (Presidential) administration.”
A new President will take over by June 30, 2022 and Dimaporo said progress on the Normalization track may be delayed in the first year of the new administration.
Dimaporo also cited the possibility that “there may not be enough fiscal space to fund the requirements under the normalization track due to the CoViD-19 Pandemic.”
He noted that the benefit package for decommissioned combatants is a million pesos each broken down into 100,000 pesos cash grant; 400,000 for social intervention / livelihood, and 500,000 pesos for housing. With 40,000 combatants, this would require 40 billion pesos, he said, and this amount might not be accommodated in the 2022 national budget “considering that the priority of the current administration is to address the COVID-19 pandemic at the same time grapple with low tax collection because of the 2020 (maybe 2021) recession.”
When a new administration sits, he said, “they have a new set of fiscal priorities and may not accommodate 40 Billion needed in the 2023 and 2024 National Budget, prior to the 2025 Bangsamoro Elections.”
Dimaporo added that the Supreme Court decision on the Mandanas case which will grant local government units a larger share of the National Revenue Collection, “thereby reducing the budgetary space for National Programs will be implemented 2022 appropriations year onwards.”
He said the “best avenue for success” would be piece meal releases for the normalization track which may require five years at 8 billion pesos a year.
“Extending the transition period to 2028 would make the budgetary requirement for the normalization process more manageable in my opinion,” Dimaporo said.
CAB and RA 11054
He added there is a budgetary requirement for conversion of MILF camps into peaceful communities although the amount was not mentioned in the committee hearing he attended.
He also asked if the incoming Presidential administration would accept the terms and conditions agreed upon in the CAB “from the incumbent administration or will there be a need to renegotiate?”
He said the provisions of the peace agreement that are not found in RA 11054 “may be reinterpreted in the incoming 2022 to 2028 administration.”
“Among these in the Annex for Normalization are the Social Development Program for Decommissioned Combatants, Redeployment of AFP troops, and Bangsamoro Police Force,” Dimaporo said.
He said the next administration’s peace panel may need time to reconsider agreements made by its predecessor. “Extending to 2028 will give them more time and less pressure to compared to a 2025 deadline to fulfill the peace agreement, which is actually October 2024,” Dimaporo said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)