In the next few months, Congress will have another change to cement peace in Mindanao by passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a draft of which was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte last July 17, 2017. The new BBL draft is slightly different, better crafted in my view, from the version submitted in 2014. President Benigno Aquino III had certified the 2014 draft urgent, but that become controversial, and was ultimately derailed by the Mamasapano tragedy.
Similar to the older draft, the 2017 version was prepared by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, a joint panel composed of representatives from the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, joined this time by a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front.
As I earlier wrote in Mindanews, the urgency of establishing a Bangsamoro homeland acceptable to the people, especially to our Muslim brothers, cannot be underestimated. I pointed that the Marawi siege illustrated the critical importance of preventing extremist ideology from taking hold among our Muslim brothers. Disillusionment and despair are the instruments which will push moderate Muslims from going over to the side of Islamic extremism. If the Bangsamoro was created in 2015, with the MILF installed during the transition as the caretaker government, I am sure they would have been able to stop the Maute group from escalating their terrorist activities.
The BBL, as drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, is designed to supplant the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It remains an autonomous region but one endowed with the highest form of self-governance short of sovereignty.
The Bangsamoro will enjoy political and fiscal autonomy within the context of the Philippine government. By political autonomy, it means the Bangsamoro will have less interference by the central government and the Bangsamoro people given a greater latitude in governing themselves. Fiscal autonomy on the other hand means that the Bangsamoro shall be given the freedom to generate their own income and revenue which will make it more self-reliant and self-sustaining.
When the BBL is created, it will have an asymmetrical relationship with the Central government, meaning it will not have the same relationship that the national government has with national agencies or even with local governments. That is consistent with the Constitution where autonomous regions are in fact granted more powers than ordinary local governments.
The BBL delineates the power-sharing arrangement between the national government and the Bangsamoro. It also defines the functions of a ministerial system of government, the sharing of powers and wealth from its natural resources, the process of normalization, provisions for transition and modalities, and fiscal autonomy. In my view, some more work is needed to refine the sharing of powers so that the BBL is not declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Definitely, as drafted, the Bangsamoro is a big improvement over ARMM in its grant of powers. Certainly, it is faithful to the spirit and letter of the CAB.
I welcome the establishment of a ministerial government in the Bangsamoro, with the Bangsamoro Assembly exercising legislative and executive powers. The cabinet will be composed of the Chief Minister who is elected by majority vote from among the members of the assembly, two Deputy Chief Ministers, and such other ministers necessary to perform the functions of government. This is a good experiment in governance, especially because the Bangsamoro Parliament is designed to be party-driven rather than personality or family dominated.
In the Bangsamoro, the competence of the Shari’ah justice system will established under the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts. However, Shari’ah shall only be made applicable to Muslims. Aggrieved parties residing in the Bangsamoro may have recourse to the local courts, or among Muslims to the Shari’ah district or circuit courts.
Both the 2014 and 2017 drafts of the BBL vow to protect vested and inherent rights including civil and proprietary rights. Included in the guarantees are the human and proprietary rights, customary rights and traditions of indigenous peoples. In my view, these provisions can still be improved, including through an explicit reference to the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act. Otherwise, IP groups will again oppose the BBL.
As it was in the 2014 version, the current draft of the BBL provides the sharing arrangement in taxes of the Central Government in taxes, fees, and charges collected in the Bangsamoro, other than tariff and customs duties. Twenty-five percent will go to the Central Government; and seventy-five percent to the Bangsamoro. However, under the new draft, the annual block grant, which is the share of the Bangsamoro in the national revenue of the central government, was increased from 4 percent to 6 percent. This is good as it will provide the Bangsamoro with a solid financial base.
The BBL provides that government revenues generated from the exploration, development and utilization of all natural resources in the Bangsamoro, inclusive of mines and minerals, shall pertain fully to the Bangsamoro government. In the case of fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) and uranium, the same shall be co-managed and the revenues shared equally between the Central and Bangsamoro governments.
The BBL proposes both core and expanded territory for the Bangsamoro. Unfortunately, the plebiscite for areas (municipalities and barangays) included in the core and expanded territory of the BBL should exclude their current home provinces. In my view, that is constitutionally flawed and the BBL could be declared unconstitutional just because of this. These provisions should be written in a way that they are separable from the rest of the BBL. This way, most of the law will be saved in the event that these provisions on territory and plebiscite are nullified by the Supreme Court.
Although I think it can and should still be improved, I support the enactment of the BBL. I am hopeful that we are now prepared to move forward on the Mindanao conflict, with a president from Mindanao and who understands the problem, a super majority in Congress, and with the two major armed groups in Mindanao, the MILF and the MNLF, committed to peace.
The government, the MILF, and the BTC are to be applauded for bringing us to this point. Aside from President Duterte, MILF Chair Ibrahim Murad, Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, and Peace Adviser and Secretary Jesus Dureza, I congratulate and praise the two chairs of the implementation panels of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Irene Santiago and Mohagher Iqbal, and the members of the BTC. Of course, Chairman Ghazali Jaafar and the members of the BTC should also be praised for their good work.
I expected the President to make a strong pitch for the BBL and for federalism in the State of the Nation address he delivered last week. To my surprise, he mentioned both only in passing. I hope this did not mean the President is not committed to get the BBL enacted. That would be so terrible. If this second chance fails, we will have more Marawi sieges in the future. God help us all when that happens.
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