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Mindanao’s murky future

It appears a foregone conclusion that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), once enacted, will be a step backward from the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, leading to an “ARMM-minus” outcome, rather than “ARMM-plus.”

That is, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will have even less autonomy than the ARMM already enjoys. From what I’ve learned, this is what the respective versions of the BBL approved by the House of Representatives and by the Senate will lead to. The two bills, said to have wide differences, are now being reconciled by the bicameral conference committee with the aim of having it signed into law by the President in time for his State of the Nation Address in late July.

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Too few Filipinos seem to be following the BBL enough to realize how profound its implications will be for the future of Mindanao, and with it, the entire nation. It will affect not only the people in Muslim Mindanao, or even in Mindanao as a whole, but also the entire country. Thus, it should be of interest to every Filipino who cares about the future of our nation and the welfare of our children, and their children.

Unfortunately, the gravity of the BBL deliberations seems to have been lost to the general Filipino public, who are buffeted by various other concerns like rising prices, worsening criminality, threats to national sovereignty, and more. But the BBL outcome, now in the hands of 28 lawmakers—18 from the House and 10 from the Senate—is something that could hit us all with the same severity as any of the above, albeit over the longer term.

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OPINION

I was in Mindanao last week on fieldwork for a couple of projects I’m part of, requiring closer examination of the structure of and outlook for the Mindanao regional economies over the next 25 years. In Cotabato City, I was invited to listen in on a business forum convened by the ARMM Regional Board of Investments, on the implications of the emerging BBL on their regional economy. I personally heard sentiments on the emerging “ARMM-minus” outcome, and the apparent mood is one of frustration and apprehension.

Forum host ARMM-BOI chair Ishak Mastura expects even greater difficulty in attracting investors to put their stakes in Muslim Mindanao, given the changes in rules that even businesses already operating in the region will be subject to. He told of how a Malaysian-backed telecoms investor, EA Trilink, decided to withdraw its P1.5-billion investment in a submarine cable project after being “spooked” by the policy uncertainty on the passage of the BBL.

The approved BBL bills take back the
exclusive power granted by Republic Act No. 9054 to the ARMM regional government to grant franchises to communications and transport facilities with operations confined to Muslim Mindanao; instead, such franchising will become a concurrent or shared power with the national government. Also being curtailed are the incentive-granting powers of the ARMM-BOI, a boon that allowed it to grant more attractive incentives to compensate for the region’s inherent unattractiveness.

These are just two among many more provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the BBL that amount to a step backward from the ARMM, covering issues well beyond the economic realm. The ARMM’s exclusive powers on the justice system, health, education and skills training, and cultural exchange, among others, are also being downgraded to concurrent powers shared with the national government.

As an observer of the unfolding process and configuration for Bangsamoro autonomy, there’s one thing I would have thought to be a given: that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), enacted through the BBL, would achieve “ARMM-plus,” not the emerging “ARMM-minus,” on the matter of regional autonomy.

Will the people in the region accept such an outcome in the plebiscite that is an agreed part of the process of implementing the CAB? Will the MILF accept it? Or is the BBL being deliberately designed for failure, so that stakeholders will see a shift to federalism via constitutional amendments to be the preferred direction?

There’s so much at stake in the BBL, and Mindanao’s future remains murky as ever.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Basic Law, BBL, Mindanao
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