Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which will be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday before his State of the Nation Address, would be a good test case for a federal system of government for the rest of the country.
“We really want to empower the regions, that’s been the call not only of the local officials but also the people themselves,” Sotto said.
Two years of implementation of the BOL—previously referred to as the Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL—would show if a federal system can be effective for the rest of the country.
“We can already see how the budget was used, how they ran the parliament. More or less, we will have a very good idea of how a federal region is doing,” Sotto said.
The congressional bicameral conference committee on BBL, chaired by Senator Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday night adopted a consolidated version of the measure that seeks to create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to be known as Bangsamoro Autonomous Region replacing the current ARMM.
The approved measure seeks to create a Bangsamoro entity that aims to help attain lasting and just peace in Mindanao.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to ratify the measure when they open the Third Regular Session morning of Monday, July 23, and before the President delivers his Sona.
The President is expected to sign the bill into law on the same day.
Once the law is implemented, the decommissioning of firearms in the possession of Muslim rebel groups could be completed, Sotto said.
He acknowledged, however, that the BOL could still be repealed if hostilities break out again or if there are attempts at secession.
Sotto said there was no need to rush the shift to federalism for the rest of the country.
“The Bangsamoro Organic Act is a good experiment. It’s good to see its effects and what will happen. We can see from here if we need to rush federalism,” he said.
But Zubiri branded the BOL’s approval as a “new dawn” for the Bangsamoro people.
The reconciled version of the measure will be sent back to the Senate and the House of Representatives on Monday for ratification before it will be transmitted to President Duterte for signature.
Zubiri said the law would not only address the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people but it is also expected to pave the way for peace in the region.
“They can now also convince the extremists, there were some thinking to sow chaos, but now—the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF] and Moro National Liberation Front [MNLF], are government partners in convincing their populations not to join extremist groups, because there’s a new dawn in the Bangsamoro region,” Zubiri said.
In an interview on radio dzBB, Zubiri said a regional federal setup may not be needed for local government units to increase their income.
He cited the Supreme Court decision that resolved a petition filed by Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas for the automatic release of the internal revenue allotment to LGUs.
Zubiri has been a proponent of federalism but is opposed to the regional federal setup, as he expressed doubt that federal states could generate the P30 billion to P40-billion average annual IRA of each region.
He said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had a point in saying that the Bangsamoro Organic Law is proof that the benefits of federalism can be achieved without Charter change.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the BOL was the only step that would allow the country to resolve misunderstandings and bring peace and development to the Bangsamoro region.
“We are hoping that once we have strengthened this measure we will witness how our countrymen in Mindanao will feel true peace and development in their region, which has been in conflict for decades,” he said.
Senator Francis Escudero said the BOL is not a perfect document and achieving and fighting for peace is a continuing process.
He noted that more than 30 years after the ARMM was created, the country was still trying to improve and perfect its “closest experiment with federalism.” This, he added, suggested that the country ought not rush into federalism for the entire country.
“For me, that is enough basis to go slow on federalism in the entire country,” he said.
He added that a shift to federalism would surely affect block grants and other monetary grants to the Bangsamoro region amounting to P100 billion a year.
Given the ARMM has revenues of about P2 billion, where would the rest of the P100 billion come from, Escudero said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque confirmed the President would sign the BOL on Monday before his third Sona.
After six days of deliberation, the Bicameral Conference Committee approved Wednesday night the combined version of the BOL, after resolving concerns that all laws that will be passed in the Bangsamoro parliament will be in accordance with the Philippine Constitution.
They also agreed to increase the percentage of the Bangsamoro in government tax revenues to a 75-25 wealth-sharing term.
In a radio interview Thursday, Zubiri, said the BOL is an “instrument of peace.”
He also added that the reconciled version of the BOL also gives importance to the religious law of the Islamic tradition.
“Here in our own approved Bangsamoro Organic Law, we also incorporated the Sharia courts in Bangsamoro regions,” said Zubiri, adding that regular Bangsamoro courts will be allowed to constitutionally implement the Shari’ah or Islamic law exclusively to cases involving Muslims.
“We finally came together in the pursuit of peace for Mindanao. Finally, all the sacrifices written in blood by all those who perished in the name of peace will not have been in vain,” said Zubiri in a post on social media.
The enabling law of the peace deal between the government and Muslim rebels in 2014, the BOL will establish a Bangsamoro political entity in place of the ARMM and allow a wider authority to Muslim cities and provinces.
There are about 56 specific powers and duties assigned to the Bangsamoro region, replacing the existing ARMM.
The approval came a year after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission submitted a drafted measure to the President, the Senate, and the House.
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said BOL will have a “little chance for success” due to the bill’s lack of effective measures to address governance issues hounding the soon to be replaced ARMM.
“I am not optimistic that the BBL will result in good governance. The failure of governance in the ARMM, not only the decades-long conflict, is also to be blamed for the high incidence of poverty in the region,” Drilon said.
He insisted that the BOL lacks teeth to reform the prevailing politics and governance in ARMM that resulted in its provinces being one of the poorest in the country.
But he held up hopes that the BOL could bring peace and stability to Mindanao.
House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, who co-chaired the bicameral committee, stood by the constitutionality of the peace measure.
The proposed BBL, now called the BOL, shall create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), will replace the ARMM. The Bangsamoro region will be headed by a chief minister and a ceremonial leader called a Wali.
The BARMM will have a parliament of 80 members composed of 50 percent party representatives, 40 percent district representatives, and 10 percent sectoral representatives.
This includes a provision guaranteeing two reserved seats for “non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities.”
Under the peace bill, a 75 percent of the national taxes collected in the region will go to Bangsamoro and the remaining 25 percent will go to the central government
The proposed law grants an annual block grant of 5 percent share of the national internal revenue or an estimated P59 billion to be given without any conditions to the Bangsamoro region.
The Bangsamoro region’s police and military will remain under the control of the national government, and its Shari’ah or Islamic law, tribal and traditional, and other relevant laws are in consonance with the 1987 Constitution.
Except from energy-producing bodies of water like Lake Lanao that would be handled jointly by the Department of Energy (DoE) and the Bangsamoro region, the latter would oversee all inland bodies of water.
The coverage of the region includes current ARMM provinces such as Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur while waiting for a regional plebiscite.
The regional plebiscite will include six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays of North Cotabato for inclusion provided a favorable majority vote is achieved.
The chartered cities of Cotabato and Isabela are also subject of the plebiscite for inclusion in the proposed region.
Peace advocates welcomed the approval of the measure.
“On behalf of our contingent to the Bicameral Conference Committee on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, I have the honor to inform you that we have successfully accomplished the mandate you had given us. We will submit the bicameral conference committee report for ratification on Monday morning,” Fariñas said.
Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan and Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, welcomed the bicameral conference committee approval of measure.
“I and other [Moro] legislators fought hard for the passage of the peace bill. We to bore the moral obligations in this August chambers, more so, our forebears who sought in every arena possible to push for a peaceful and just resolution to almost half a century of struggle for self-determination,” said Sangcopan, a member of the bicameral conference committee. “Moros will have something better than the status quo that is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”
Moro Islamic Liberation Frong former chief negotitator Mohagher Iqbal also expressed his happiness over the the version of the law that will create a Bangsamoro entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. With Nat Mariano and Evalea Casaljay
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