The Bangsamoro: after the signing, the hard work begins

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Last Thursday, March 28, 2014 was a great day for the Philippines. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed in Malacanang, amid much rejoicing, assurances of peace, and goodwill among the signatories. The supporters of Bangsamoro were the happiest of all. Their joy was shared by all who have waited and prayed for the end of war and the beginning of lasting peace.

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Does this mean that the Bangsamoro is already operating as the New Political Entity in place of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao? Fr. Eliseo Mercado, who has long been a major traveller on the road to peace in Mindanao, firmly says no. This is because the Basic Law creating the Bangsamoro still has to be submitted to both houses of Congress for approval.

While the President desires that the Basic Law be passed within the year, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano has warned that “it would take a miracle [for that]to happen” due to the complexity of the agreement. Senate President Frank Drilon has also noted that Congress must ensure “that the Bangsamoro law falls within the four corners of the Constitution and that it can withstand judicial scrutiny.”

After the Basic Law will have been passed, a plebiscite will be conducted to secure the consent of the citizens in the provinces and municipalities covered by the proposed Bangsamoro region. Only then will the Bangsamoro Transition Authority start operating and oversee the election of the Bangsamoro officials. All of these steps are expected to be completed by 2016.

It behooves all Filipino citizens to participate in all the steps leading to the final creation of the Bangsamoro. This is not only about the Moro peoples, many of whom have long been excluded from the benefits of growth and development in the country. This is also about the rest of the Filipino people who are expected to share political, economic and financial resources with the new political entity. They will initially contribute to the maintenance and operation of the entity. The Bangsamoro and the rest of the country together will have to live with the requirements and responsibilities specified in the forthcoming Basic Law.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB)
The recetly signed FAB and its three annexes will serve as the framework for the proposed Basic Law which will be submitted to both houses of Congress. It is therefore very important for citizens to study the FAB itself. While it is true that the FAB has been featured in lavishly featured in multimedia, it has to be scrutinized carefully by citizens to ensure that provisions will not only be beneficial to the Bangsamoro but also to the rest of the country.

Each provision in the FAB has to be examined in terms of its constitutionality and harmony with existing laws and regulations.

The annexes
The FAB has three annexes. Each of them are interrelated. These are the annexes on power sharing, revenue sharing and the dismantling of the military arm of MILF.

These annexes are different from the typical annexes which merely give additional information which can be dispensed with. If I may say so, the meat of the agreement is actually in the annexes. These annexes provide crucial details on the general statements in the FAB. Therefore, they are just as important as the FAB itself.

The first which is Annex A is on revenue and wealth-sharing . It gives detailed provisions on the treatment of the budget of The Bangsamoro. For example it provides that the entire budget of Bangsamoro will be given as a block grant which will be automatically appropriated. The entity will have it own audit body, without prejudice to the audit which COA will be conducting.

The provisions on taxes and licenses which can be imposed by the Bangsamoro invite close attention , as well as the power to create government corporations, and to borrow from national and international sources as well.

The annex on power sharing allows the Bangsamoro to exercise 58 powers which according to a member of the Transitory Commission will have to be funded by the national government at this time.

The annex on the dismantling of the military arm of the MILF gives details on how the process of dismantling will take place.

A challenge to media
In order for the public to be informed about the FAB and participate meaningfully in the process of crafting the Basic Law, it will be most helpful for print media to publish the FAB and the 3 annexes .

This will enable the public to know each of the 58 powers which will go to Bangsamoro, as well as the budgetary and tax-making powers which are also granted to the entity.

There is no question that the peoples of the Bangsamoro should be given the opportunity to catch up with the rest of the country in terms of social, political and economic development . There is no question that they have been largely left out, even as other regions are moving on. However, all of these equalization efforts have to be done within the provisions of the Constitution ,existing law, and equity considerations for all Filipinos who will be sharing the burden of financing the Bangsamoro.

The celebrations are over. Let the work begin.

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