The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), a Mindanao-based policy center that promotes meaningful autonomy as a solution to the Mindanao conflict, has reviewed H.B. 6475 and S.B. 1717 passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The approved bills will now be subjected to bicameral proceedings to reconcile their conflicting provisions.
IAG adopted the following review criteria:
1) Whether or not the approved bills address the critical gaps of the current autonomy set up in Muslim Mindanao; and
2) Whether or not the approved bills establish a good foundation for moving forward with the political process to implement signed peace agreements.
IAG considers as critical provisions of the Basic Law for the Autonomous Region those that pertain to political and fiscal autonomy and the system of Bangsamoro government. Political and fiscal autonomy arrangements that address the fundamental gaps of the ARMM create the policy environment conducive for growth of Bangsamoro self-governance. A system of democratic regional Bangsamoro government that is accountable to constituents is the foundation for developing a stable and responsive autonomous government.
The core of political autonomy in the draft BBL is the assignment of powers between the national and regional government in Art. X of HB. 6475 and SB 1717.
- H.B. 6475 lists the reserved powers of the National Government, the exclusive and other powers of the Bangsamoro government and the concurrent powers of both national and Bangsamoro government (Secs. 1-4)
- S.B. 1717 lists the powers (but do not denominate them as exclusive) of the Bangsamoro government (Sec. 3) subject to the following:
- That the powers are exercised within its territorial jurisdiction only;
b. That they are subject to the provisions of the Constitution and national laws;
On the other hand, the powers of the national government under S.B. 17171 are those not granted by the Constitution or by law to the Autonomous Region of the Bangsamoro (Sec. 1).
R.A. 9054 or the Organic law of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has already vested broad powers to the ARMM subject only to the following limitations:
- It cannot exercise the fourteen (14) powers of the national government (Sec. 3).
- The powers of the ARMM are only subject to the Constitution and R.A. 9054 or the ARMM Organic Act (Sec. 1).
Yet, despite these limitations, the ARMM may enact laws that promote the general welfare of the people of the autonomous region (Sec. 4).
In a recently concluded study of IAG and the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) of the House of Representatives, we find that “unclear assignment of powers, functions and responsibilities is a pervasive problem in the ARMM context. It manifests in the unclear delineation of the responsibilities and task of the National Government, Regional Government and LGUs in shared functions.”
By clearly delineating the powers of the national and regional governments as exclusive, reserved and concurrent powers, H.B. 6475 addresses this fundamental problem of unclear assignment of powers that ails the current autonomy arrangement.
On the other hand, S.B. 1717 is not only unresponsive to the problem of unclear assignment of powers, it has also put limits to the existing power structure under R.A. 9054. While the ARMM Organic Law subjects the exercise of autonomy powers only to the Constitution and the Organic Law, S.B. 1717 provides that regional legislations and powers can be trumped by national laws.
IAG is aware of the constitutional debate around delineation of powers. However, to make autonomy an effective solution, it is critical that the any amendment to R.A. 9054 or passage of Basic Law for the Autonomous Region must bring about more, not less autonomy than what is provided by the prevailing RA 9054 or the ARMM Organic Law. It must be noted that the ARMM Organic Law or any part of it has not been declared constitutionally infirm.
IAG urges the House and the Senate to adopt Art. V, Secs. 1-4 of H.B. 6475 in so far as it provides a clear delineation of powers between the national government and the Bangsamoro government.
Fiscal autonomy allows the autonomous entity to do budgeting more independently and its mandated shares are rightfully retained and allocated. The provision on block grant to the Bangsamoro government in Sec. 17, Art. XII of H.B. 6475 and S.B. 1717 is a big leap from the current fiscal arrangement in the ARMM.
However, the tedious requirement and control by governmental bodies other than the regional Parliament of the autonomous government for budgeting and release of the block grant negates the spirit and letter of a block grant for the development of regional and fiscal autonomy.
In HB 6475, the block grant shall be released “based on development plans and program and performance-based criteria as may be prescribed by the Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board (IGFPB)” (Sec. 17). H.B. 6475 further requires that the IGFPB determines “from time to time the amounts that must be transferred by the National Government to the Bangsamoro Government including the manner and mode of transfers and the standards and conditions therefor. TheIGFPB shall take into consideration the following factors: a) total land area and population of the Bangsamoro, and b) priority development plans and programs of the Bangsamoro Government. The IGFPB shall allocate funds for health, tourism and infrastructure as priority areas for development”(Sec. 18). While the annual block grant is to be automatically appropriated in Sec. 19, it shall however be “determined by the IGFPB”. The IGFPB shall also allocate funds for health, tourism and infrastructure as priority areas for development.
The role of IGFRP in the release and transfer of funds to the Bangsamoro government is likewise provided in S.B. 1717 (Sec. 18). It further provides that the President of the Philippines is authorized to make the necessary adjustments in the block grant in the event the national government incurs an unmanageable public sector deficit. It unduly limits the power of the Regional Parliament to budget the block grant by already providing for priority areas by which it shall be appropriated and allocating 40% of the block grant for development projects. S. B. 1717 subjects the allocation of the block grant national laws and rules and regulations of the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Interior and Local Government that are applicable to LGUs.
In the current budget process, the ARMM is considered like a regular executive agency which budget is proposed by the DBM and appropriated and approved by Congress. In H.B. 6475 and S.B. 1717, the allocation and release of the block grants is subject to varying levels of control and oversight by executive agencies such as the IGFPB, DBM and the DILG.
IAG urges the House and the Senate to review the above-mentioned provisions that unduly limit the power of the regional parliament to budget the block grant and subvert the nature of this fiscal autonomy mechanism as automatically appropriated and released. The national Commission on Audit and the Ombudsman shall continue to operate and exact transparency and accountability in the allocation and disposition of the block grant.
The Regional Parliamentary system shall promote accountability by the Bangsamoro government to its constituents. IAG lauds the House and the Senate for adopting this system in H.B. 6475 and S.B. 1717 that will significantly promote broad representation and participation of citizens in the governance of the autonomous region. This is a significant development from the ARMM set-up.
There are more provisions in H.B. 6475 and S.B. 1717 that various quarters will raise for review in the bicameral conference of the House and Senate. For IAG, the most critical provisions are those that pertain to delineation of powers, block grant and the parliamentary system which when done right, will significantly address the critical gaps in the ARMM and lay a good basis for moving forward in making autonomy an effective vehicle for meaningful Moro self-determination. Ultimately, the full implementation of the peace agreements will require amendments to the 1987 Constitution and/or a shift to a federal system of government. Yet, a Basic Law for the Autonomous Region with clear assignment of powers among levels of government, a block grant that is automatically appropriated and unconditionally released and a strong regional parliamentary system is a legislation that is superior over all past and current autonomy laws.
IAG contact person for questions and concerns on this statement is Ram Toledo, @toledoram on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org