The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) does not square with the 1987 Constitution because of its expansive nature, a veteran lawmaker said.
Rep. Jose “Lito” Atienza of Buhay party-list said he would support the bill granting wider autonomy to Muslim Mindanao but “without its unconstitutional provisions.”
“As it is, the proposal is highly doubtful. It has a lot of demands which are not within constitutional limits,” Atienza told The Manila Times editors and reporters in a roundtable discussion.
The measure seeks to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and replace it with a Bangsamoro Region that will enjoy fiscal autonomy, and be governed by the Bangsamoro Parliament elected by the region’s inhabitants.
Atienza cited the BBL’s provision for the creation of a Bangsamoro police, as well as its own constitutional offices such as the Commission on Audit (CoA) and Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“Why do they have to push for a Bangsamoro police, or constitutional offices like CoA and Comelec? The Constitution will not allow that,” he said.
“How can they audit themselves? The fund is coming from the national government. Why would the existing CoA be prevented from auditing funds coming from the national government? You see, what they want is total autonomy which cannot be the case,” Atienza pointed out.
President Rodrigo Duterte has promised to “husband” the BBL into passage, but he has also said the measure, which was a product of the 2014 peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has a lot of unconstitutional provisions.
Duterte, however, did not specify the provisions that would contravene the 1987 Charter.
Still, Duterte has warned that the non-passage of the BBL would prolong armed conflict in Mindanao.
Atienza said there would be more conflict if the BBL and its unconstitutional provisions would be passed into law even.
He said giving the ARMM its rightful share of resources did not necessarily depend on the BBL’s passage. The President can issue an executive order to implement it, he said.
Atienza said decentralization was already provided under the 1987 Constitution, which states that “each local government unit will have the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges subject to such guidelines and limitations as the Congress may provide, consistent with the basic policy of local autonomy. Such taxes, fees, and charges shall accrue exclusively to the local governments.”
Likewise, the Charter provides that local government units should have a just share, as determined by law, in the national taxes, which should be automatically released to them, and that local governments should be “entitled to an equitable share in the proceeds of the utilization and development of the national wealth within their respective areas, in the manner provided by law, including sharing the same with the inhabitants by way of direct benefits.”
“An autonomy should be connected with the main body, which is the national government. As it is, the BBL is just a palliative step for decentralization. If you break the country apart, and it will be very hard to walk back from that,” Atienza said.
‘Count the cost’
On Friday, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto pressed Finance and Budget officials to compute the “price tag” of the BBL, saying that only a “clear fiscal picture” would pave the way for BBL’s passage.
“We are all for financing peace…But the nation must be told how heavy the burden on the taxpayers will be,” Recto said.
Recto said debate on BBL would center on “constitutionality and cost.”
“It is not that hard to make the bill constitutionally compliant, which is what President Duterte wants,” Recto said. “But what I think might be contentious is where to source the money required to implement the bill.”
He said this issue will “definitely crop up” in the course of finalizing the BBL “because the context here is we have just finished with the first installment of [tax reform].”
“It will be interesting to know what BBL’s cost will be so we can compare it against the potential yield from Train 2,” Recto explained, referring to the Palace revenue bill that will rationalize fiscal incentives.
Recto said BBL “is also an appropriations and revenue bill. It creates financial obligations in the tens of billions of pesos. It decides on the fate of taxes collected.”
The BBL drafted by the Aquino government, which is almost a duplicate of the version submitted to Congress by the Duterte administration, had it passed, would have cost P59 billion in its first year of implementation.
The MILF, based on reports, however, gave a higher estimate of P72 billion, while Recto pegged a range of P63 billion to P73 billion.
Under the BBL draft sent to Congress, “the Central Government shall provide an annual block grant which shall be the share of the Bangsamoro in the national internal revenue of the government.”
“The annual block grant shall be automatically appropriated to the Bangsamoro Government, which means it cannot be changed,” Recto said.
Also immediately after the ratification of this BBL Law, and for another five years, the central government shall provide additional funds that would subsidize expenditure for development projects and infrastructure in the Bangsamoro.
The additional funds are on top of its share from the national internal revenue, annual block grant, Special Development Fund (SDF), and funds from National Government Agencies downloaded to the Bangsamoro.
The SDF shall be P100 billion for 20 years, P10 billion of which shall be given by the national government the year following the ratification of the BBL.
Thereafter, P8 billion pesos will released annually for the next four years, and P6 billion annually from year 6 to 10.
The balance will be released in 10 equal annual installments of P2.8 billion.
“The Bangsamoro government would get 75 percent of taxes collected, and may even retain the 25 percent share of the national government for 10 years,” Recto said.
Recto said he supports the 75-25 tax sharing formula “in the hope that this will become the template for the entire country.”