On the Legislation of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (H.B. 5811 and S.B. 2894)

Statement of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG)
on the Legislation of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (H.B. 5811 and S.B. 2894)

The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), an independent public policy center devoted to the development of autonomy and good governance for Mindanao peace, makes public our analysis and recommendations on the pending legislation of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the House of Representatives (HB 5811) and the Senate (SB 2894). Our position is informed by countless experts’ discussions, researches and consultations we have undertaken on Muslim Mindanao autonomy since IAG began its work in 2001.

Four (4) Key Considerations

First, peace agreements between the Philippine government and the Moro revolutionary fronts from the Tripoli Agreement in 1976, Final Peace Agreement in 1996 to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014 are good roadmaps for the evolving development of meaningful autonomy for peace in Muslim Mindanao. Over-all, they establish and address weaknesses in autonomous arrangements.

The CAB, in particular, lays down the foundation for meaningful political autonomy namely a clear delineation of powers between the national and regional government and a regional parliamentary system. It strengthens fiscal autonomy through a block grant system and a degree of control and management of the region’s natural resources. It provides a pluralistic justice system that recognizes the diverse peoples in the region and promotes law and order through normalization and policing roadmap. It mandates a system of continuing adjustments and improvement of intergovernmental relations through a multi-level grievance resolution machinery.

Second, at this time, the full implementation of peace agreements with the Moro fronts is not possible under the country’s prevailing constitutional, legal and political environment. The weight of legal opinion is to the effect that a number of provisions in the CAB and the proposed BBL are of doubtful legality and constitutionality. Without public support and legitimacy in the country’s laws and the constitution, the CAB and the BBL cannot be implemented meaningfully and the gains and successes so far achieved are in danger of being further undermined.

Third, more powers and resources in policy and law for Muslim Mindanao will not instantly result in successful autonomy. The ARMM has key powers under its Organic Law that to date are not implemented primarily because of weaknesses in the national bureaucracy to effect real devolution and the timidity and lack of capacity of the autonomous government to assert its powers as a matter of law. Among these unimplemented policies are the establishment of the regional police force, Shariah Law, regional indigenous people’s law,

local government system and local elections. Thus, it is absolutely essential that the transfer of powers to the autonomous government be in step with increased capacities as well as legal and bureaucratic reforms in the national and regional governments.

Fourth, the implementation of all peace agreements and legislation of any Basic Law must be inclusive. An autonomy arrangement “franchised” by a group or individual is bound to fail. Processes and structures moving forward must involve and supported by all key stakeholders including minority groups. It is imperative that the implementation of the CAB must seriously consider the enforcement of existing peace agreements with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

State of BBL Legislation

The legislation of the BBL is effectively in a state of ‘suspended animation’. The House and the Senate, invoking their plenary powers and obligation to insure that the final version of the basic law is in accord with the Philippine constitution, have introduced substitute bills that depart in varying degrees from the proposed BBL. Senate Bill 2894 in particular is questioned as having provisions that are less than the current ARMM Organic Law. The remaining time for the passage of the Basic Law is getting limited and there is the real possibility that the national Budget Law and the 2016 election campaign will soon, sideline it. Many believe that there is no sufficient time anymore to pass a Basic Law under the Aquino administration. The MILF has publicly committed to continue the peace process and advocate for the legislation of the BBL that is compliant to the CAB beyond the current administration.

All parties and stakeholders must now accept the hard reality that unless the Philippine constitution is amended to accommodate the terms of the Tripoli Agreement, the FPA and the CAB and/or to shift the country from a unitary to a federal system of government, existing peace agreements cannot be fully implemented. It is the obligation of the Moro revolutionary fronts and government to move the peace process forward from a realistic and doable framework.

Our Call: Working Autonomy as a Framework

A realistic and doable framework is one that insures a working autonomy and a good transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro. We identify five (5) pillars of autonomy in H.B. 5811 and S.B. 2894 that are “big leaps” for autonomy in policy and practice. These are the “seeds” for the growth of meaningful Bangsamoro autonomy and self-governance in step with successful transition and legal and constitutional reforms.

First, we urge Congress to focus on the legislation of the five (5) pillars:

  1. Delienation of powers between the national and regional Bangsamoro government;
  2. Regional Parliamentary system with an electoral system that provides equitable allocation for district and party representatives;
  3. Control of strategic resources by the Bangsamoro government or at least co-management arrangement between the national and regional governments;
  4. Block grant;
  5. Justice system and Bangsamoro Safety & Security;

These five (5) pillars are already provided for in H.B. 5811 and S.B. 2894. The executive branch of government, the Senate and the House, the MILF and key stakeholders are strongly urged to devote all remaining energy and time to reach a consensus on the five (5) pillars above. IAG is of the view that a BLBAR with these five (5) pillars already provides a good foundation for the growth of meaningful Bangsamoro autonomy.

Secondly, we urge policymakers to legislate a realistic, sound and effective transition to the Bangsamoro. A successful transition can only be achieved when it results in policies, processes and structures to effectively implement the five (5) pillars. The transition must provide sufficient time, resources and mechanisms to raise the institutional and human resources capacities of the future Bangsamoro government to build and administer strong autonomous governance infrastructures. Special governmental fiscal processes must be adopted during the transition period. The transition must lay down accountability and good governance mechanisms at all levels of government.

It must be noted that a transitional mechanism is already provided in H.B. 5811 and S.B. 2894. We urge Congress and key stakeholders to reconcile and develop a transition mechanism following the criteria above.

Concluding Remarks

Key stakeholders must recognize that peace agreements are aspirational and roadmap documents and the political deals therein can only be meaningfully implemented in phases and in step with reforms of national and regional political institutions, laws and processes. Political and legal reforms require more than reconfiguring the relationship between Manila and the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity. Equally and perhaps more crucial is building a democratic, efficient and working autonomous Bangsamoro political institutions that will lead the region to peace and prosperity.

We have a rare opportunity in the CAB, past peace agreements and in H.B. 5811 and S.B. 2894 to evolve strong public policies for Bangsamoro autonomy. The substitute bills pending in Congress may not embody all and some provisions may be contrary to what is provided for under the peace agreements. At some point, key stakeholders and the Moro fronts will have to deal with the question of implementation of peace agreements. But from the perspective of building a strong autonomy in addressing the Bangsamoro question, the five (5) pillars already provided H.B. 5811 and S.B. 2894 when refined and strengthened are more than substantial to evolve a meaningful Moro autonomy.

Whether a BBL is legislated now or in the next administration, the process will be hounded and weigh down by the same constitutional, legal and political issues. It is to the best interest of the Mindanao peace process that we build on incremental gains now than later.  (IAG)