• The Bangsamoro law

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    NOW that President Benigno Aquino 3rd has submitted the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to the Senate and House of Representatives, all eyes will shift to Congress as the country awaits the passage of a law that will establish a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

    Missed deadlines and a flurry of workshops have made the draft measure the object of public curiosity, given its importance to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Mindanao peace process.

    What would the Bangsamoro Basic Law contain? The 122-page priority bill, crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and later reviewed by the Office of the President, is composed of 18 articles with 242 sections.

    The bill’s Preamble emphasized the basic principles upon which the BBL is based and the aspiration of the Bangsamoro people. It contains the establishment of a justly balanced Bangsamoro democratic society where everyone can live in utmost peace, justice, freedom, equality and security.

    Article I of the BBL states the name and the purpose of the Bangsamoro government while Article II, III and IV defines the Bangsamoro Identity, Territory, and General Principles and Policies, respectively.

    The Powers of the Government, Intergovernmental Relations, Bangsamoro government, Basic Rights, Bangsamoro Justice System, Public Order and Safety, Fiscal Autonomy, Economy and Patrminony, and Rehabilitation and Development were provided under Article V to Article XIV of the draft BBL.

    Provisions on Plebiscite and Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) are provided under Article XV and Article XVI of the draft BBL, respectively.

    Shari’ah law
    The BBL differs from Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in terms of government structure, the asymmetrical relationship between the Bangsamoro and the central government, control over inland waters and power generation, and the power to create offices such as Commission on Audit, Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission, and Office on Muslim Affairs.

    One notable feature in the proposed law is the Bangsamoro justice system.

    Under the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro, the parties have agreed to strengthen the Shari’ah court by upgrading its efficiency, operationalizing existing offices under existing laws that have not been operational and expanding jurisdictions over cases.

    The Shari’ah High Court, Shari’ah Judicial and Bar Council, Shari’ah Academy shall be created under the draft BBL.

    However, the draft law emphasized that the supremacy of the Shari’ah shall only be to Muslims.

    Enlarge ARMM Map
    The proposed Bangsamoro law will also redraw the map of the ARMM and nearby areas.

    Aside from the current geographical area of the ARMM, the new Bangsamoro autonomous region would include “the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte and all other barangays (villages) in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.”

    The draft law also stated that all other “contiguous areas” where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters in the area may also ask their inclusion in the plebiscite at least two months prior to its conduct.

    “Significantly, the proposed [basic law]provides that the Bangsamoro government shall be parliamentary in form. This would allow for a broader base of political representation and participation in governance. It would compel the formation of competitive and sustainable political parties in the region,” said Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government chief negotiator.

    Block Grant
    Unlike the ARMM, which is dependent on the national government, the Bangsamoro government will have fiscal autonomy through its revenue-generating powers. This will make the Bangsamoro government fiscally autonomous.

    The funding mechanism will allow the Bangsamoro government to become self-sufficient and will no longer need funding from the national government to provide for the needs of its constituents.

    Apart from the taxes that were granted previously to ARMM, the Bangsamoro government will have the power to impose and collect four national taxes — Capital Gains Tax, Donor’s Tax and Documentary Stamp Taxes.

    As for national taxes, fees and charged collected by the national government within the Bangsamoro, 75 percent shall be shared with the Bangsamoro and its constituents. The ARMM currently gets a 70 percent share.

    Both the government and the MILF also included in the proposed law the allocation of funds to the Bangsamoro via a block grant and special development funds. This would eliminate the need for the Bangsamoro government to seek approval for its budget from the central government.

    The block grant is intended to be automatically disbursed to the Bangsamoro every year. The law states that the national government shall provide P7 billion to the political entity the year after the Basic Law is ratified.

    The central government is also mandated to pour billions to the Bangsamoro government over the next five years, based on the Bangsamoro bill.

    Revenues from the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources, as well as taxes, will be deducted from the block grant. It will also be subject to audit, though the annex provides for the creation of a Bangsamoro auditing body, which would perform its functions without prejudice to the authority of the Commission on Audit.

    MILF Army
    The BBL also provides that the Bangsamoro government shall have primary responsibility over public order and safety within the Bangsamoro and that a “Bangsamoro Police” would be created for this purpose.

    In this regard, a “Bangsamoro Police Board” shall perform the functions of the National Police Commission, and the board will be part of the National Police Commission. Another provision empowers the Chief Minister to have operational control over the Bangsamoro Police.

    The MILF army, in effect, will simply be renamed the Bangsamoro Police, and the MILF chairman who had commanded the army will simply wear the robes of the “Bangsamoro Chief Minister.”

    No Disarming
    However, the decomissioning of the armed components of the MILF was not included in the draft BBL.

    The government chief negotiator said the item on the disarming of MILF forces is already included in the Annex on Normalization, one of the key documents of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

    Under the annex, an Independent Decommissioning Body is tasked to oversee the gradual surrender of MILF weapons. This body shall be composed of three foreign experts and four local experts.

    MILF Govt
    Upon the ratification of the basic law, a Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will be created to serve as interim governing body of the region until the election of the new leaders of the Bangsamoro government in 2016.

    The draft bill allows the President to appoint all 50 members of the BTA. The MILF, as the principal party of the peace pact, shall lead the BTA in its leadership and membership. The BTA will have an initial funding of P1 billion to carry out the requirements of the transition period. It will be dissolved following the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro government on the first Monday of May 2016.

    The draft bill also provides that a “Wali” will be the titular head of the Bangsamoro, taking only ceremonial functions in the Bangsamoro government.

    The “Wali” will be appointed by the BTA and shall hold office for three years.

    Each succeeding “Wali” will have a term of six years.

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