Preparations underway for Bangsamoro transition government

Angela Casauay
The ceremonial turnover of the first batch of rebel firearms is postponed to 2015

LEGISLATIVE MILL. President Benigno S. Aquino lll witnesses the hand over of the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by Bangsamoro Transition Commission Chairman Mohagher Iqbal and Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles to Speaker of the House Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon during the turnover ceremony at Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace, Wednesday September 10, 2014.The Bangsamoro Basic Law tops the list of priority measures endorsed by the Aquino administration. File photo by Rey Baniquet/NIB/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Deliberations on the proposed law creating a new autonomous government in Mindanao are still at committee level in Congress but preparations are underway for the interim government that will take over once the bill is ratified. 

Peace panels from the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a final peace accord in March, have created a team that will coordinate the transfer of responsibilities from the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

The  Coordination Team for the Transition or CT4T is composed of 5 government representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and 5 MILF representatives. 

The BTA will serve as the interim government once the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified in Congress and through a plebiscite, and will remain in place until the election of the first set of Bangsamoro officials in 2016

It will serve as a preview of how the proposed Bangsamoro government will function.

With the MILF leading the BTA, this phase in the Mindanao peace process will also give the former rebel group the chance to show their capacity to govern as they prepare to enter the political arena. 

The coordination team is in charge of mapping out a plan on how the transition process will take place. A major concern is what would happen to ARMM’s 32,000 employees. (READ: ARMM’s curtain call) 

The government hopes to ratify the basic law by March 2015 to give the transition authority at least one year to be in power. 

“We want the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to be prepared once the law is ratified,” said government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.  

“Rest assured, nothing will be too abrupt. Everything will be gradual and phased in the transition process,” she added. 

The proposed Bangsamoro government is designed to have greater political and fiscal powers than the current ARMM in a bid towards ending 4 decades of armed conflict in Mindanao that has killed over 100,000 people. 

Delayed decommissioning

With all these parallel efforts happening simultaneously, Ferrer said the ceremonial turnover of the first batch of rebel firearms, which was supposed to have been scheduled for December, has been moved to 2015.

By the end of the year, MILF combatants were expected to turn over 20 crew-served weapons and 55 high-powered firearms to the independent body tasked to oversee the decommissioning process.

But Ferrer told reporters this would have to be postponed to 2015 due to the lack of time. 

Ferrer said the panels have yet to constitute the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB). Only the 3 foreign experts who will compose the group have been appointed so far. The panels still have to name 4 local experts. (READ: MILF rebels start arms decommissioning process)

Under the peace pact, the MILF will turn over their firearms to a third-party group, not the Philippine army or the government. The IDB is tasked to conduct an inventory of MILF arms and troops, as well as give recommendations on what to do with the decommissioned firearms.

A total of 30% of MILF firearms will be decommissioned once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified, another 35% will be turned over when the Bangsamoro government and its police force have been established, and the final 35% will be decommissioned once the exit agreement signifying that all commitments have been fulfilled is signed. 

Both sides have not provided the total number of MILF troops and firearms. 

Composition, members 

To establish the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the President will appoint 50 members, who will exercise both legislative and executive powers.  

The transition body will have an interim cabinet with 10 offices on governance, social services, development, education, public order and safety, indigenous peoples affairs health, public works, local government and finance.

A total of P1 billion is set to be provided by the central government as initial funding. 

While the chief minister of the body will be from the MILF, it will not be exclusive to the group. The proposed law also provides for the appointment of representatives from non-Moro indigenous communities, women, settler communities and other sectors. 

Ferrer said there is no fixed number as to how many seats will be allocated for the MILF and various groups.  

“We have to be able to give leeway to the President in his power to appoint how many members from various groups,” Ferrer said.  

It will be an open field and there is nothing stopping current politicians from being appointed, Ferrer said, but the final decision rests on the President. 

The option to choose who among their members will become the chief minister will be an “internal process” for the MILF, Ferrer said. 

The transition government will be tasked to lay the groundwork for the Bangsamoro parliament. Part of its mandate is to enact priority legislations such as its own administrative code, revenue code and electoral code. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture is set to provide a program to assist farmers in 6 MILF camps in a bid to start their transformation into peaceful communities.

The ad-hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the House of Representatives has conducted at least 10 hearings not just in Congress but also in present ARMM provinces. Hearings outside the proposed Bangsamoro area are being conducted until December. 

On Tuesday, November 25, foreign diplomats involved in the Mindanao peace process were invited as guests for the hearing but the session was closed to the public after lawmakers decided to hold an executive session instead. 

The committee discussed the international community’s role in the peace process, as well as the experiences of countries such as Indonesia and Egypt in similar peace processes.