MANILA, Philippines – Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said Senate amendments to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) weeded out unconstitutional provisions.
The Senate passed the BBL after midnight on Thursday, May 31, but watered down the powers for the new region that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“I am confident that the Senate version is compliant with the Constitution and [can] withstand scrutiny by the Supreme Court. We have weeded out provisions that earlier muddled our intentions to improve the lot of fellow Filipinos in Muslim Mindanao,” said Zubiri, majority leader and head of the BBL subcommittee in the Senate.
The proposed law is part of the comprehensive peace agreement that the previous Aquino government signed with the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014.
It got stuck in legislation for about 4 years, as lawmakers and the MILF disagreed on how the planned new region would share taxes and power with the national government.
The Senate and House versions prompted concerns from sectors in Mindanao that the Bangsamoro region will not have the autonomy they envisioned. (READ: Bangsamoro region ‘lesser than ARMM’ feared)
The MILF is expected to push hard to restore certain provisions during the bicameral conference committee hearings.
Below are the amendments made by senators, as contained in Zubiri’s statement late Thursday:
Block grant, share in taxes: Under fiscal autonomy, the block grant, was spelled out to be 5% of the net collections of the BIR and Bureau of Customs, down from 6%. It was easily the most contentious provision because it appeared that the National Government was subsidizing the Bangsamoro government at the disadvantage of Filipino taxpayers outside of the Bangsamoro territorial jurisdiction. Senator Recto’s proposed formula on block grants included a provisions on the creation of internal auditing body to enhance transparency in governance and public accountability.
Special Development Fund: The fund shall be a programmatic fund, meaning the Bangsamoro Government Parliament should submit to the budget and management and finance departments a program of expenditures according to a development plan. It was clarified that the Bangsamoro shall be treated on equal footing by the Department of Budget and Management and the Bureau of Local Government Finance-DOF, which review the expenditures plan of local governments. It will not be automatically appropriated. From P10 Billion annually for 10 years, the SDF shall be at P5 Billion a year for 10 years.
Share on national taxes collected from the Bangsamoro territorial jurisdiction: From the original BTC proposal of 75%-25% sharing in favor of the Bangsamoro government, the sharing was placed at 50%-50%. This satisfied the call to treat the Bangsamoro at par with other local governments and the basic principle that a country’s natural resources belong to the State.
Core territory: The Senate voted to hold only one plebiscite and deleted the proposed periodic plebiscites to be held repeatedly every five (5) years for 15 years. Discussions in the plenary stressed that the proposed BBL contains only opt-in provisions, and none on opting-out. If the BBL is defeated, the current law on the establishment of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao shall remain over the existing ARMM territorial jurisdiction.
Peace efforts: Provisions on the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the Bangsamoro Parliament were refined to make sure that the extensive representation of Muslim Filipinos, Indigenous peoples and Christians and peoples of other faiths is implemented truthfully. A ban on political dynasties retained the original language of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission; this could stem the tide of that had shed so much blood in Mindanao.
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