Playing with fire

LEADERS will have to take hold of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in light of the recent Basilan and Cotabato ambushes because the perpetrators are said to be young recruits of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with which we have a standing peace agreement. This does not augur well since we are already on the last mile if you will go with the implementation of the peace process. Still, the list of codes passed by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, or BTA, will have to be subjected to a midterm audit, which should have been done first before rearranging the composition of the second parliament of the BTA which was inaugurated last September 2022, with the President himself going to Cotabato City for the ceremonial opening.

The audit should have been made first in order to establish the prevailing policy environment that should conform with the Bangsamoro Organic Law, or RA 11054, an act by the National Government (NG) pursuant to the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed in 2014. But the second parliament clearly was designed by individuals outside of the framework, and this has led to bothersome acts that essentially are not in the interest of the Republic.

Clearly, from 2019 to 2022, the NG has given funding support to BARMM and proof of that is what the NG found in the aftermath of the Maguindanao flooding: there were plenty of funds placed in each department that are not being used accordingly and the amount is staggering in these days of escalating inflation. It is a BARMM with a budget, but the funds are allocated for other purposes and to a certain degree impounded for some other reasons not in the interest of the residents of BARMM, considering each of the members of the BTA has no constituency. Each member of the BTA receives a monthly amount akin to a "pork barrel," and this has raised various issues as to who should be a member of the second parliament.

And that is where the need for an election come May 2025 is clear. Members of the BARMM government will have to be accountable to their constituents, thereby passing a budget and coming up with the policy environment for their interests and not just for the MILF. The schism between rule of law (ROL) and self-determination (SD) should be within the bounds of the Republic and not just BARMM.

In these apparent clashes between ROL and SD, it appears that the NG has not reviewed legislations from BARMM which it has been mandated to enact. All these codes will have to fall under the general supervision clause of the Local Government Code (RA 7160) and the Administrative Code (EO 292). And this is where the agency involved in the peace process has been remiss. BOL mandates the passage of six priority codes, and the first parliament of BARMM passed only three codes: administrative, civil service and education. No review of these codes has been made, and that will create interpretation issues when compared to national laws, especially in standard settings.

Legislation coming out of the BARMM parliament needs to conform with the BOL. BARMM after all was created by the BOL and it is a parliament, hence there is a fusion of the executive and legislative branches of government. Having said that, all members of the parliament are appointed by the President. In theory they cannot be higher than the President, or its chief minister be on the same level as that of the President of the Republic. To point it out clearly, the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government is not at par with the Minister of Local Government that it can supplant national laws and directives regarding local governments in BARMM. Imagine the situation where the governor of the divided Maguindanao cannot sit because of the interpretation of the Minister of Local Government that there is "no vacancy" or local governments cannot take their positions and hence draw from the local depository banks because the Minister of Local Government has not issued a certification to the effect that they head their locality. One wonders where inclusivity is in BARMM today.

We have been into an iterative process of reviewing two important codes: Local Government and the Election Code. Why are these important? The Local Governance Code (Parliament Bill 30) will govern the intra- and interrelations between and among the BARMM government and the local government units composed of five provinces, three cities, 116 municipalities, 2,590 barangay (villages), and a special geographic area composed of 63 barangay. Clearly, what defines PBN 30 is the relationships between NG and BARMM, BARMM the area and BARMM the government and the local governments therein. Critical to the Election Code will be the definition of the jurisdictional bounds of the eight legislative districts, 32 parliamentary districts and that of the special geographic area. An Election Code without these clear demarcation lines will be problematic and can lead to a no-election scenario. An Election Code that creates its own Comelec and the non-passage of the Election Code would be a win-win for the MILF-led BARMM. That would lead to the extension of terms for the second time, contradicting why we pursued the peace alternative in resolving the longstanding problems.

In all these "entitlement and victory" power plays and overreach, the issue of governance is little by little being set aside in favor of ruling forever. Governing without a mandate is anathema in a democracy. Power without representation at the very level of BARMM is just like another route toward failure, and the young Muslims do not want another of the "same old, same old." Even the decommissioning process is riddled with roadblocks from lack of names, non-existent list, and missing serial numbers of individuals instead of going by groups and commands.

When everyone is appointed by the President of the Republic and BARMM has a parliament without constituencies, it would have been easy to get the codes and promote a policy environment of good governance that leads to strong institutions. It is after all a controlled environment. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening, and we need to wave the Philippine flag and not just the MILF flag; we are a Republic after all.



Sign up via our free email subscription service to receive notifications when new information is available.