Who’s afraid of BBL?
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was up for congressional approval this month following Malacañang’s schedule. Then the Mamasapano tragedy happened. The bill remains pending at the committee level in both chambers of Congress, with legislators promising to scrutinize it carefully.
The Mamasapano incident, which exacted a heavy death toll on both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has nothing to do with the bill but it has amplified fears of what the BBL will create. These fears must be addressed.
1 Will the BBL carve out an independent territory in Mindanao?
Legal pundits have charged that the proposed BBL will create a substate and is therefore unconstitutional. Will it? The BBL will indeed create the Bangsamoro region that will enjoy an enhanced autonomy that other regions do not enjoy but it is far-fetched to consider this as the genesis of a separate state.
The Bangsamoro won’t deliver the four essential criteria to become a state, as set by the Montevideo Convention. It will have a permanent population, a defined territory and a government but not the capacity to enter into relations with other states—the fourth criterion. That power will remain lodged with the central government.
Amid debates on the BBL, it is instructive to know why the Supreme Court struck down the memorandum of agreement on the ancestral domain (MOA-AD), negotiated by the Arroyo administration and the MILF, as unconstitutional. The high court pointed out that the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which the MOA-AD would have created and which would have authority and jurisdiction over the Bangsamoro ancestral domain and lands, was essentially a state because it met the four criteria of a state as laid down by the Montevideo Convention.
The BJE would also have an associative relationship with the central government. An associated state, according to the Supreme Court, is a status conferred on states that are on their way to full independence. The 1987 Constitution does not recognize the concept of association, allowing only the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras.
The Bangsamoro autonomous region can have a bigger territory than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), depending on the results of the plebiscite. It will also have more avenues to raise revenue. While the Bangsamoro will have an asymmetric relationship with the central government, which will give it a status higher than that of a local government unit or administrative region, it will remain under the control and supervision of the President.
2 What will happen to the ARMM?
The BBL will repeal the laws that established the ARMM, thereby abolishing it, but the leaders of the Bangsamoro that will replace the ARMM will not start from scratch. The BBL will transfer the powers, assets and personnel of the ARMM to the Bangsamoro, although offices created through laws passed by the ARMM’s legislative assembly will be gradually closed.
The BBL provides for a period of transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro, which will be overseen by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim government. Under Malacañang’s original schedule, there would have been roughly a year between the dissolution of the ARMM and the first election for the Bangsamoro parliament in May 2016. However, as the BBL remains pending at the committee level in Congress, with approval possibly in June yet, the BTA will have limited time to draft and implement a transition plan. Legislators may consider lengthening the transition period so the shift will be smooth.
3 Will the BBL create a separate Moro police force?
Certainly not! The Bangsamoro Police the BBL will create will be part of the Philippine National Police, with all its officers to come from it. The Bangsamoro Police will replace the ARMM regional police that was established on the basis of Republic Act No. 6975 that allows the PNP to establish regional offices.
The BBL will also create a Bangsamoro Police Board, from which the Bangsamoro Police will get directions. This won’t be a deviation from RA 6975 either, as the law allows the National Police Commission (Napolcom)—which exercises administrative control and operational supervision over the PNP—to also establish regional offices. The Bangsamoro Police Board will be part of the Napolcom; it will replace the ARMM Napolcom.
The chief minister will chair the Bangsamoro Police Board and will have operational control and supervision over the Bangsamoro Police, similar to local chief executives who have been deputized by RA 6975 as Napolcom’s representatives in the local government units.
The chief duties of the Bangsamoro Police will be to enforce the laws of the republic and the Bangsamoro, maintain law and order, ensure public safety, prevent crimes, arrest criminals, conduct searches and seizures, and initiate drives for the registration or surrender of loose firearms. The regional police group will be headed by a director.
4 What will happen to the weapons of the MILF?
The BBL will institutionalize the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that spells out the decommissioning process of the MILF’s weapons and combatants. The decommissioning process is not written in the proposed BBL but is dependent on the bill’s passage so without the law, the MILF is unlikely to decommission its weapons and demobilize its combatants.
The MILF is not setting a precedent here. Like other peace processes worldwide, the decommissioning process gets delayed if the political settlement hits a snag. This explains the MILF’s assertion that it remains a revolutionary force and will continue to be so until its command and control structure over combatants is dismantled.
Four days after the Mamasapano incident, the members of the government and MILF peace panels approved the implementing guidelines of the decommissioning process, signifying their determination to see the peace process through.
Based on the guidelines, the decommissioning will be done in four phases: the ceremonial turnover of 75 high-powered weapons will mark phase one; the decommissioning of 30 percent of MILF weapons and combatants will take place in phase two; 35 percent in phase three; and, the last 35 percent in phase four.
The turnover of high-powered weapons was originally scheduled in February but this has also been delayed following the BBL impasse. The first phase may be ritualistic at most, but without this, the two parties cannot proceed to phase 2, which should be completed by the time the BBL is ratified by voters in the areas that will comprise the Bangsamoro.
5 Will the MILF turn into a political party after approval of the BBL and renounce armed struggle?
The MILF has said that until its peace agreement with the government is implemented, it will remain a revolutionary organization. It has, however, prepared for its participation in the future Bangsamoro by forming the United Bangsamoro Justice Party that will join the new region’s first parliamentary election. The establishment of a political party is the best evidence the MILF can show its willingness and enthusiasm to participate in mainstream politics.
Preparation to handle the reins of government has also been made via the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute, the MILF’s training center for the Bangsamoro’s future leaders. This will be tested as the MILF heads the BTA. The proposed BBL provides that the MILF, “being the principal party to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, shall lead the BTA, in its leadership and membership.”
The BTA will have 50 members, all to be appointed by the President. An interim chief minister will also be appointed. The BTA will exercise legislative authority and the interim chief minister, executive authority.
6 Won’t the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) undermine the BBL?
It may get worse before things get better. Various groups may see it in their interest to sustain the Mindanao conflict and spoil the political process that underwrites a lasting peace in the region.
The International Alert’s Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System provides the hard evidence: Violent conflicts in the ARMM’s five provinces rose to 1,702 in 2014 or by 55 percent from the year before amid more clashes between the military and MILF on one side and the BIFF on the other.
The MNLF is, at best, a divided force. The Misuari-led faction rejects the BBL and feels excluded. The Zamboanga siege of 2013 demonstrated its resolve to block the GPH-MILF peace deal. Meanwhile, the BIFF is an MILF-splinter group that insists upon the establishment of an Islamic and separate Moro state. These groups will continue to undermine the peace in Muslim Mindanao, and may even, in the future, forge alliances with other disgruntled political elites.
However, with the leadership of the MILF and its forces in alliance with the government, it becomes simply a matter of time before these groups are won over or neutralized. Dealing with excluded groups such as indigenous peoples or rival rebel armies requires the building of strong alliances to govern the region—following the practice of local strongmen and “men of prowess” of Mindanao in the past. This is the bigger challenge for the MILF.
7 Will the Bangsamoro provide a haven for terrorists?
Terrorists will always find a safe haven where uncertainty, insecurity, instability and the lack of development persist. These make the Bangsamoro and other poor regions potential safe havens for terrorist activity. Peace, stability and development must be secured in Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines. Thus, it is crucial that peace processes with the MILF and the Communist Party of the Philippines-News People’s Army are relentlessly pursued.
The key ingredient in stemming extremism and terrorism is the ability of a strong and responsive government to meet the basic needs of its people and provide the security and protection that everyone desires. Until these conditions are met, the Armed Forces of the Philippines will have to deal with internal threats instead of focusing its intelligence efforts and firepower on the growing external threats in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region.
Those who feel that the MILF is synonymous with the Bangsamoro will find hope in the former’s repeated denunciation of terrorism and its clear commitment and the demonstrable evidence of its participation and partnership with the government’s security forces in neutralizing terrorist groups and criminal gangs in the region.
8 Will the BBL require a huge item on the national budget?
The national government will shell out more to the Bangsamoro than to the ARMM to allow it to catch up with the other regions of the country. At the same time, the BBL will allow the Bangsamoro government to calibrate its revenue-earning powers to be able to spend on things the region needs and will need.
The national government will provide the following: P1 billion for the transition from the ARMM to Bangsamoro
An annual block grant representing the region’s share from the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) net internal revenue collections
Special development fund amounting to P7 billion in the first year after the BBL’s ratification and P2 billion per year from the second to the fifth years; and
Development funds, which will finance infrastructure and other development projects including provincial and municipal roads, in the first year following the BBL’s ratification and five years thereafter.
The 2016 annual block grant, computed at 4 percent of the BIR’s net internal revenue collections three years prior and less the local government units’ internal revenue allotments, will amount to P27 billion, the government has said. This, plus the transition and special development funds, will add up to P35 billion, higher than the P24.3-billion ARMM budget for this year.
The BBL will greatly expand the Bangsamoro’s sources of revenue. The Bangsamoro government will be able to collect capital gains, documentary stamp, donor’s and estate taxes, which the ARMM now cannot do. It can collect tolls on bridges and roads and a portion of the income tax from corporations headquartered elsewhere but doing business in the Bangsamoro.
The Bangsamoro government will also keep its share in the income from natural resource use as well as the national government’s 25-percent share in the taxes, fees and charges collected in the region for 10 years.
9 Will the BBL bring development to the region?
It promises to. Recognizing the region’s backwardness after decades of conflict, the BBL provides that, “The Bangsamoro government, with funding support from the central government, shall intensify development efforts for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and development of the Bangsamoro as part of the normalization process.” Normalization refers to the transformation of conflict-affected communities into peaceful, progressive communities.
The Bangsamoro government shall also promote economic development. It shall create a Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board, composed of representatives from the Bangsamoro and central governments, which will harmonize environmental and development plans. It will draft a Bangsamoro Development Plan and, for this purpose, create an economic planning office.
The promise of peace and economic development through the BBL has piqued the interest of investors and donors in the Bangsamoro and other parts of Mindanao. Indeed, some people believe that the principal benefit of the peace agreement and the BBL will be an increase in aid and investments in other parts of Mindanao, before businesses begin putting their money in the Bangsamoro.
The growing interest and willingness of domestic business groups and foreign investors to invest in Mindanao are now threatened by the delay in the passage of the BBL. In the final score, the loss of these investments and their impact on jobs and livelihoods and the promise of genuine human development will be a far bigger tragedy than Mamasapano.
(Eddie Quitoriano is a member of the Mindanao Multi-Stakeholder Group [MMG]. Drawn from the private sector, community groups, clans, local government, indigenous peoples and research outfits, MMG is a think group that explores the links between violence and exclusion from a multistakeholder perspective, building on the “Inclusive Peace in Muslim Mindanao: Revisiting the Dynamics of Conflict and Exclusion” study published by International Alert in 2009. )
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