“There’s a new dawn in the Bangsamoro region,” Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri declared on Wednesday as the bicameral conference committee concluded 6 days of deliberations on the provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
At 8:52 p.m., Zubiri and House majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas, co-chairs of the committee, both banged the gavels to signify the end of the proceedings in the presence of members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as the predominantly Muslim crowd erupted into cheers, with some of them in tears.
“We’re addressing their aspirations, the aspirations of our brothers and sisters for self-governance, additional funding through the block grants so they’ll be able to chart now their own path for social services, for health, for education,” Zubiri told reporters following the ceremonial signing of the final draft of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
“They can now also convince the extremists na nag-iisip na manggulo du'n, sila na mismo, ang MILF, MNLF, 'yan ay partners ng gobyerno in convincing their populations not to join extremism, not to join extremist groups because there’s a new dawn in the Bangsamoro region,” he added.
Officially called the “Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” the law creates a new entity, the “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” which will replace the existing “Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”
Self-governance and fiscal autonomy
It will be headed by a chief minister and two deputy ministers, to be elected from the parliament – 50% of which will be composed of political party representatives, 40% parliamentary district representatives, and 10% sectoral representatives and reserved seats for non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities.
All parliament members will serve for a term of 3 years and for a maximum of 3 consecutive terms.
The parliament is empowered to, among others, enact its own laws, among 55 other enumeration of powers, which Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said is proof of self-governance.
“The BBL grants self-governance. Yung batas po ay binibigyan ng sapat na kapangyarihan ang Bangsamoro government,” he said.
“Pangalawa, 'yung pong fiscal autonomy at generation of resources, sa ilalim ng panukalang batas na ating binubuo.”
He cited the block grant of 5% of the national internal revenue amounting to at least P60 billion to P70 billion a year, which will be released to the region automatically, apart from the power to impose some taxes currently being levied by the national government.
Under the final draft, the region will also get a bigger share at 75% of the taxes collected by the national government, compared with the 70% the ARMM currently gets. The rest goes to the national government.
Among the most contentious issues discussed is the region’s territorial jurisdiction.
Under the final draft, all the existing provinces under the ARMM – Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi – will still form part of the region with the possibility of other areas such as Cotabato City, Isabela City, 6 municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 39 provinces in North Cotabato joining the region should they so decide to vote during a plebiscite prior to the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. The same holds true for contiguous areas where a local government unit resolution or a petition of at least 10% of the registered voters decide to join the plebiscite.
The BTC originally wanted the conduct of regular plebiscites and the inclusion of the 6 municipalities and 39 barangays without the approval through a plebiscite of their respective units, but lawmakers stood their ground, fearing it will not withstand constitutional scrutiny.
“We were very careful. Precisely we’ve had several problems along the way because we could not grant everything they want,” Fariñas said.
“They would have wanted that the 39 barangays in North Cotabato and the 6 municipalities in Lanao Norte would vote by themselves but the Constitution clearly states that the directly affected political unit must vote as a whole.”
The BTC also wanted control over inland waters, including Lake Lanao.
“They agreed that when it comes to all inland bodies of water in the Bangsamoro, sila talaga magma-manage. But when it comes to inland bodies of water that produce energy for areas outside Bangsamoro, it will be co-managed by the DOE and Bangsamoro government, like Lake Lanao,” Zubiri said.
The Bangsamoro government will get all government revenues generated from the exploration, development and utilization of all natural resources within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region but will equally share revenues with the national government when it comes to uranium and fossil fuels.
One sticking point which resurfaced several times during the deliberations is the language of the Preamble.
“Kasi the way they crafted it, it was like the Bangsamoro people speaking by themselves,” Fariñas said.
“So nilagay namin du'n, We, the Filipino people, in recognition of their aspirations of the Bangsamoro people and the other inhabitants of Muslim Mindanao, binigay namin yung aspirations nila. So by the people, through their representatives, binigay namin sa kanila.”
The conclusion of the bicameral conference committee came exactly a year after the BTC submitted its draft Bangsamoro Organic Law to the Senate, the House and to the President.
An “overwhelmed” Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs and BTC, thanked the legislators for their efforts in seeing through the reconciliation of the provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
“Nagpapasalamat po kami sa honorable senators at congressmen and women, members of the bicameral conference at naipasa itong Bangsamoro Basic Law, which is very, very, very important for the Moro people and the other people of our region,” he said.
“This maybe not a perfect law but it is good to start with. And I am overwhelmed at this moment. I can only say, thank you very much. Mabuhay.”
Inclusion of MNLF
Under the transitory provisions of the draft, the MILF is designated as head of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which will govern until the next regular election in 2022. The BTA will receive an initial funding of P1 billion, charged against the general funds of the national government.
Asked about the Moro National Liberation Front’s participation in the transition and in the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region government, Zubiri said they have laid out several provisions for the inclusion of the MNLF.
“In the composition of the BTA, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, we had included together with the same paragraph and same sentence of the inclusion of the MILF, the inclusion as well of the MNLF, and even in the integration or entry of the combatants former combatants,” he said.
“So ang kagandahan nito, pati 'yung BTC, meron talagang members of the Central Committee of the MNLF and they met with us. As a matter of fact, they met with the leaders of both bicameral conference committee panels and they’ve signified their intention to be participatory in the process using this Bangsamoro Organic Act as the key to this whole process to move forward,” he added.
The bicameral conference committee is expected to submit a clean draft of the Bangsamoro Organic Law to the President for him to review over the weekend.
Zubiri said that if the President approves, both the Senate and House panel will be ready to have the drafts ratified by their respective chambers by Monday morning, just before the President’s third state of the nation address. The President will then sign the bill into law.
But this early, Fariñas said he is confident the President will not find anything objectionable to the final draft, given the presence of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in the deliberations.
Within 90 to 150 days from the President’s signing of the bill into law, a plebiscite will then be conducted to have the Bangsamoro Organic Law ratified.
Road to Peace
Zubiri said the passage into law of the Bangsamoro Organic Law will have a huge impact on the rest of the country, as development in Mindanao will benefit the other regions in the same way that bombings in the area will also affect business in the capital.
“When the guns go silent in the island of Mindanao, that will be to the advantage of the Filipinos,” Zubiri said.