COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 01 October) – The Bangsamoro Parliament on Thursday passed on third and final reading the Bangsamoro Local Governance Code of 2023 which aims to change the status quo in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), towards a more inclusive and responsive governance framework that pushes forward the right to self-determination aspirations fought for by the Moro liberation fronts in the battlefields and later in the peace negotiations and agreements with the Philippine government.
“Finally, we have a Local Government Code that is tailored fit for the needs of the Bangsamoro,” Member of Parliament (MP) Don Loong of Sulu said in explaining his “yes” vote.
The law provides for, among others, gradual devolution of powers to local government units (LGUs), multisectoral representation in all levels of governance, delineation of powers and responsibilities between regional and local governments, mandatory training and capacity building for newly-elected officials and creation of tribal barangays. It also allows equal access to opportunities for public service through a highly controversial ban on political dynasties that may not be total but sets limits to the prevailing practice of families and clans dominating the executive and legislative posts in every election.
“We all know that we have struggled for more than 40 years in order to achieve these changes we advocate. So we are now in this government where our instrument for change is already in our hands,” Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said in his message to the Bangsamoro Parliament that voted 57 for and four against the passage of the Code.
The BTA has been governing the BARMM since its establishment in 2019. The transition period has been extended until June 30, 2025 when the first set of elected BARMM officials shall have taken over.
The BARMM adopts a parliamentary system within a highly centralized Presidential system of government.
The 80-member BTA Parliament is dominated by members and nominees of the Moro liberation fronts — 41 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that Ebrahim heads and 15 from the Sema-Jikiri and Nur Misuari factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Both fronts waged war and later signed peace agreements with the Philippine government.
At present, the Parliament has 79 members as one seat has been vacated with the appointment early this year of Member of Parliament Abdulraof Macacua as Governor of Maguindanao del Norte. Sixty-one were present in Thursday’s session, 18 were absent.
“More than just a set of rules”
Bangsamoro Autonomy Act No. 49 or the Bangsamoro Local Government Code (BLGC) is the fourth passed out of five priority bills mandated by Republic Act 11054 (Organic Law for the BARMM) and the second passed in six months after the Bangsamoro Electoral Code.
The Parliament passed the Administrative Code in 2020 and the Education Code in 2021 but has yet to pass the Bangsamoro Revenue Code. Although not listed as priority, it passed the Bangsamoro Civil Service Code in 2021.
At the inaugural session of the BTA under the Marcos administration on September 15 last year, the Chief Minister assured the passage of the Bangsamoro Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Gender and Development Code, Internally Displaced Peoples law, Magna Carta for Persons With Disabilities, Irrigation System Bill, and Energy Development Corporation of the Bangsamoro Charter.
Ebrahim described the passage of the BLGC as a “historic milestone in our shared endeavor to achieve social justice and our pursuit of genuine and meaningful autonomy for the people of the Bangsamoro region.”
For Speaker Pangalian Balindong, the Code is “more than just a set of rules … it sets the foundation of a governance framework anchored in our distinct identity, our rich culture, and our ambitious aspirations.”
“With the enactment of this code, we are empowering local government units across Bangsamoro to take charge of their destiny,” he said, noting the law grants the LGUs authority and resources they need “to address the distinctive challenges and seize the opportunities that define our region.”
The BLGC repeals Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 25 or the Local Government Code passed in 1995 by its predecessor Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). MMA 25 has remained applicable in the BARMM pending the passage of its own governance code.
The BLGC shall take effect “immediately” following its complete publication in at least one newspaper of general circulation in BARMM.
But there is a transitory provision for implementing the anti-dynasty and mandatory training of newly-elected officials: these provisions will be applicable five years later, in the May 2028 elections, not in May 2025 as expected.
MP Randolph Parcasio, who served as Executive Secretary of the ARMM in the late 1990s when Nur Misuari was Governor, said the law provides powers and functions to LGUs and their elected and appointed officials similar to those granted by Republic Act 7160 (the national Local Government Code of 1991) “but improved and written to respond properly and appropriately to the realities within BARMM.”
The BARMM comprises the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato, and the Special Geographic Area of 63 villages in six North Cotabato towns that voted yes to inclusion in the BARMM.
“Now the doors to deliver basic services and development for the Bangsamoro grassroots are opened and have multiplied and downloaded from a singular regional government down to six provincial governments … the … SGA, the three cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato, the 117 municipal governments and the 2,490 BARMM barangays.”
RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, provides that the authority of the Bangsamoro Government to “regulate the affairs of its constituent LGUs” shall be guaranteed in accordance with the Organic Law and the BLGC. The same section states that the privileges already enjoyed by LGUs under RA 7160 and other existing laws, “shall not be diminished.”
RA 11054 is the enabling law of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by the Philippine government and the MILF in March 2014, after 17 years of peace negotiations.
“Status quo is unacceptable”
At the onset of the peace negotiations in 1997, the MILF had declared that “the status quo is unacceptable.” The Philippine government joined the MILF in making that declaration in April 2012 through the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles” where both parites vowed to work for the creation of a “new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM.”
Deputy Floor Leader Anna Tarhata Basman said she is proud of the Parliament for passing a Code that is “an offering not just to our fellow Bangsamoro, not just to all Filipinos, but to the entire world, that once again we’ve shown that a government as young as ours can come up with a legislation that not just challenges but defies head on the status quo.”
“Ipinapakita natin sa magiging batas na ito na hindi tayo natatakot na baliktarin ang nakasanayan” (We are showing through this law that we are not afraid to reverse the norm), she said, citing the anti-dynasty provisions, multisectoral representation in all levels of governance, participation not only of the Moro but also the Indigenous Peoples and settler communities, provisions for women and children, clearer delineation of responsibilities and powers between the regional and local government units.
“What is taking the national government decades to do, we’ve done in a few years, if not months,” Basman said.
“We’ve done our part. The Bangsamoro, through this measure, is saying enough is enough. We’ve stated what we want for our region,” she said.
Basman expects the Code will not go unquestioned. “My challenge to them and the others who will have the final say on this law, will you be a helping hand in the Bangsamoro’s quest for change? Or will you be a stumbling block?”
Loong pointed to the mandatory training and capacity-building, regulation of LGUs, improvement of coordination, establishment of councils, full devolution, improved benefits to the barangays, more power, authority and responsibility to the LGUs so that they can be self-sufficient, improvement in the financial systems and transparency and accountability in governance, the inclusion of Madaris in the local school boards, IPs and ad hoc bodies to address rido and Shari’ah compliance against riba.
“We had always said that the root cause of conflict and the motivation for the Bangsamoro struggle is to address the political and economic marginalization. Today is an exercise of political and economic autonomy,” he said.
Deputy Floor Leader Mary Ann Arnado said the anti-political dynasty provisions in the Code “demonstrates the Government of the Day’s strong commitment to deliver meaningful and drastic political reforms in the Bangsamoro.”
The 1987 Constitution under Article II, Section 26 provides that “the state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibits political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
No law has been passed by the political dynasty-dominated Congress.
“Where Congress failed in implementing this constitutional mandate since the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the Bangsamoro Parliament under the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is able to fulfill it in the autonomous region by sheer political will,” she said.
The BARMM is no exception to the nationwide trend of political dynasties controlling both executive and legislative posts. Several members of the BTA are also members of political dynasties, including Speaker Balindong, who told the Parliament that he was under siege from his family “because of the (anti-) political dynasty (provisions) that we have provided in the Bangsamoro Local Governance Code.”
“Our family, I do not deny it, is also a dynastic family,” he said.
Arnado also cited the creation of tribal barangays as a “very unique and distinct provision” in the Code. She said the Code provides for the empowerment of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) by recognizing the establishment of tribal LGUs “within established and delineated ancestral domains” in the BARMM. “This arrangement is very unique (as) it will help the IPs in enforcing their indigenous political structures with the BLGC recognizing and institutionalizing their tribal authority and leadership.”
She also noted that the Code provides for “stringent implementation of the GAD (Gender And Development) budget by sanctioning violation thereof as dereliction of duty on the part of the local chief executives. This will help the women sector hold the LGUs to account for the allocation, usage and spending of the GAD budget, which, under the BLGC, should primarily benefit the special needs of women.”
The GAD budget is a minimum of five percent of the total annual budgets of the LGUs .
Women and Youth
MP Tarhata Maglangit of Maguindanao, said the Code seeks to strengthen its policies to protect women from violence, and ensure that they are included in decision-making in different levels of government.
Maglangit said the Code included her proposals to institutionalize protective services at the barangay level, such as VAWC (Violence Against Women and Children) Desks, Barangay Council for Protection of Children (BCPC).
MP Diamila Disimban-Ramos of Lanao del Sur said she voted yes because the Code promotes gender equity and inclusivity though the inclusion of women and the youth in the LGU’s promotion of participation from people’s organizations and nongovernmental organizations representing women, youth, workers, persons with disabilities, and Indigenous Peoples.
Ramos also cited the creation of the following local councils in every province, city, and municipality, and as far as practicable, in the barangay: Council for the Protection of Children, Anti-Drug Abuse Council, Youth Development Council, Culture and Arts Council, Council for the Elderly, Council for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and Council for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The BLGC also ensures women participation in the local development councils which shall, as far as practicable, “ensure that at least 40% of its members are women.”
She lauded the inclusion of traditional leaders in the barangays’ Lupong Tagapamayapa, in recognition of the importance of culture and tradition, especially in sustaining peace and security in our communities.
Other noteworthy provisions, she said, are those related to the Sangguniang Kabataan which she hopes would be an instrument for a better governance of the youth communities and organizations; the mandatory appointment of Cooperative and Social Enterprise Development Officers and the optional appointment of Local Women Development Officers and Municipal Architect in provinces, cities and municipalities.
She said the Code mirrors the Bangsamoro’s aspirations for an inclusive local governance that attends to the needs of the disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors in society by providing them a comprehensive platform where they can amplify their voices and expand their participation, and pave the way for their active role in the governance structures of the LGUs.
Mandatory training and capacity-building
The Code provides that before any newly-elected local official can assume office, he/she must undergo a “mandatory onboarding training program” undertaken by the Bangsamoro Local Government Academy, or any accredited service provider, and within the first two years in office, shall attend continuing skills training programs “to enhance his or her capability to perform the official duties and functions concomitant to his or her elective position.”
According to MP Baileng Mantawil the passing of the BLGC signifies a “new era, an era where the voices of the marginalized are finally heard, where the wounds of the past can heal, and where a brighter, more inclusive future awaits us all.” She acknowledged, however that this future is “not something that will simply be handed to us but it is something that we must actively work forward.”
The Code, she added, is “not just about legislation” but also “the power of the Bangsamoro spirit, it is about Change, and the endless possibilities.”
MP Kadil Sinolinding said the Code “may have flaws hence imperfect, but it is the best we can have in these challenging times” and that despite their opposing views and judgment, “we come to finally agree and move on.”
The ‘No’ vote
Of the four MPs who voted against the passage of the Code, three cited the anti-dynasty provisions as unconstitutional: Deputy Speaker Nabil Tan of Sulu, MP John Anthony Lim of Tawi-Tawi and MP Khalid Ma-Amor Hadji Abdullah of Lanao del Sur. MP Hatimil Hassan of Basilan voted no but for another reason: the possibility that existing barangays that would not be able to comply with the requirements of RA 7160 will be abolished.
Tan said he appreciates the hard work done by the Committee on Local Government chaired by Deputy Floor Leader Raissa Jajurie but “in principle, I cannot just close my eyes and violate the Constitution.”
Tan said Congress has the mandate to pass a law on political dynasties, not the Bangsamoro Parliament.
Like Tan, Lim said it is Congress that must pass the law. He said the anti-political dynasty provisions “may also violate the constitutional guarantee to equal access to opportunities for public service as intenders/candidates in the BARMM will now be in a different situation as those candidates/intenders in other regions.”
In the other regions, he said, qualifications for those who want to be elected include generally literacy, citizenship and residency but the Code adds disqualifies candidates on the basis of relationship by consanguinity or affinity. “Clearly, access to public office in the BARMM will become more restrictive compared to those in other regions,” he said.
Hadji Abdullah noted that the Bangsamoro Parliament is “trying to incorporate an anti-political dynasty alike clause, although on a very limited and vague scale, but at least we are brave enough to go against one of the biggest issues our region is facing since time immemorial.”
But the BLGC, he said, is “not yet ready to face the light of the day.”
He also questioned why the anti-dynasty provisions will be implemented five years later. “Why would we need a five-year period before the anti-political dynasty clause shall be applicable and observed?” He said he does not see any valid reason to hold implementation until 2028 “when we can just make the BLGC effective in tis entirety.”
He said the transitory provision on the anti-dynasty provision “defeats the very purpose of the clause’s spirit considering that we will have two succeeding elections before the same shall take effect.”
Aside from those listed in RA 7160 and MMA 25, the BLGC provides additional disqualifications for those seeking public office:
Under the BLGC, those who are related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent local official running for an elective position are disqualified to run for any elective post in the same province, or same city, or same municipality, or same barangay.
Relatives of an incumbent mayor running for reelection, for example, cannot run for vice mayor or councilor within the same city or town.
Also disqualified are elected local officials in areas outside the BARMM who seek to be elected in the BARMM in the next local elections; and incumbent officials who seek to run for an office holding a postiion lower than his/ her current position.
In the latter, a third termer mayor, for example, cannot run for vice mayor in the next election. The current practice is the third-termer mayor runs for vice mayor in the next election while his wife or son or daughter runs for mayor, and after a three-year term, returns to the mayoralty.
The Ministry of Interior and Local Government, in consultation with “pertinent stakeholders from the Bangsmaoro and local governments” shall, within three months from the effectivity of the Code, promulgate the necessary rules and regulations for the implementation of the provisions of the code. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)