"It’s time to move forward in Mindanao."
This is the first of several columns on the ratification of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Law. Last year, I wrote several articles on this issue; these were published in MindaNews, intended for a Mindanao audience and to assess the new law. I update those articles in this series and with a different objective in mind: For a national audience and to assist people and groups in making decisions to support or oppose the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao which will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
At the outset, I declare my support for the Bangsamoro, for the ratification of the BOL and the replacement of ARMM with BARMM. This will be good for peace in Mindanao and the Philippines. This will lead to opportunities for sustainable and inclusive development in the island and the country.
The BOL is a big improvement over the ARMM Law. Under the BOL, Congress is allowing the Bangsamoro the highest form of autonomy, a promise the government made to the both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front in the respective peace processes with them, both of which I had participated in as a government representative.
When Republic Act No. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law was signed by the President, I described what transpired as a “whole of country” project that we pulled off successfully. I praised the President, the leaders of the House of the Representatives, and the Senate, the administration coalition, and the opposition for what they succeeded in doing. I also complimented the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, the local government officials, the leaders of the indigenous peoples in the affected areas, and civil society organizations for their constructive engagement in the process. I was both witness and participant in that process, having assisted the Lumad leaders to make sure their interests would be met by the law and also in providing advice to several senators.
This is not to say that the BOL is perfect. There are still a few legal and political issues left, including non-compliance by the government of some of its commitments in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. But from the seriously flawed versions that came out of the House and the Senate, with potentially dozens of big gaps and problems, we ended up with a law with not too many flaws.
As I described in my Mindanews series, Republic Act No. 11054 is a product of four administrations (Ramos, Arroyo, Aquino, and Duterte), of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Transition Committee, and the indigenous peoples inside and outside the Bangsamoro that sought to have their voices heard. It is a product of a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives from the administration and opposition—Zubiri, Drilon, Angara, Fariñas, Sema, Dimaporo, and Lobregat, etc. who worked together to forge a consensus even as they represented diverse, conflicting interests. The President himself got involved at the right time and resolved an important legal issue—how to approach the inclusion of the six Lanao del Norte municipalities—correctly.
The objective of the BOL is “to establish a political entity, provide for its basic structure of government in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and the aspirations of Muslim Filipinos and all indigenous cultural communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to secure their identity and posterity, allowing for meaningful self-governance within the framework of the Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”
The law consists of 18 articles defining the territorial jurisdiction of the BAR, general principles and policies, the powers and structure of the Bangsamoro government, Wali, basic rights, justice system, national defense and security, fiscal autonomy, regionals autonomy and patrimony, rehabilitation and development, plebiscite, amendments and transitory provisions.
Article IV (General Principle and Policies) lists down the guiding principles that shall govern the BARMM in all aspects of socioeconomic and political governance. These principles include: territorial integrity and allegiance which mandates the Bangsamoro as an integral part of the Republic and its people an inseparable part for the Filipino nation; self-governance which allows the Bangsamoro people to chart their own destiny; democratic political system which allows the Bangsamoro people to participate in a democratic political system; an electoral system consistent with national electoral laws and democratic electoral participation; establishment of a civilian government; promotion of social justice; adherence to international agreement and treaties; respect for the rights of non-Moro Indigenous peoples; and respect for the freedom of choice.
Article V delineates the powers of the national government and the Bangsamoro Government. Thus, the national government exercises all powers not granted to the Bangsamoro government by the Constitution. Section 2 specifies the powers granted to the Bangsamoro Government. The more significant powers by the Bangsamoro Government are administration of justice, administrative organization, ancestral domain and natural resources, budgeting, civil service, classification of public lands, customary laws, eminent domain, human rights, indigenous people’s rights, public works and structure, tourism development and many more.
Article VI (Intergovernmental Relations) lays down the mechanism that will define the relationship between the national government and the Bangsamororo government for cooperation, coordination and issue resolution. The President shall exercise general supervision over the Bangsamoro Government to ensure that the laws are faithfully obeyed. An Intergovernmental Relations Body is created to coordinate and resolve issues through consultation and negotiation in a non-adversarial manner.
Finally, Article III delimits the territorial jurisdiction of the BARMM. As defined, the Bangsamoro shall include all geographical areas of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, municipalities that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite, the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan, and all other contiguous areas where a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least ten percent (10%) of the registered voters in the area seeks for their inclusion at least two (2) months prior to the conduct of the ratification of this Organic Law.
The plebiscite will be held on two dates. The first is on Jan. 21 for the provinces (Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulo, which are already part of ARMM which the law considers one unit for purpose of ratification, and for the cities of Cotabato and Isabela which are being proposed for inclusion into the new entity. The second is on Feb. 6 for those municipalities in Lanao del Norte and barangays in North Cotabato that the BOL includes as areas to be included in the BARRM and other areas which are petitioning to be included into the new entity. In the second vote, the whole of Lanao del Sur and North Cotabato would be voting to allow or disallow the concerned municipalities or barangays to join BARMM. I suppose that if there are other areas—probably municipalities or barangays from other provinces—that would be include because of a successful petition, their home or current provinces or cities would also have to vote.
There will be challenges in implementing the BOL. Staffing the new governance entity with competent, technical people will not be easy. Getting the national government agencies, especially the Department of Budget and Management, to change their behavior from one control to one of respect, support and autonomy, will not come overnight.
There is also the constitutional challenge pending before the Supreme Court. A Temporary Restraining order halting the plebiscite would have immediate impacts on the ground, especially this late in the game.
It’s time to move forward in Mindanao. Ratifying the Bangsamoro Organic Law and creating the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is a good step in that direction.
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