Duterte urged to form Bangsamoro intergovernmental relations body

MANILA, Philippines – Bangsamoro officials and advocates called on President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately form the intergovernmental relations body (IGR) deemed as "indispensable" to the success of the new Bangsamoro region. 

Half a year after the inauguration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Duterte has yet to name the members of the IGR.

The IGR is mandated by the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) to "coordinate and resolve issues on intergovernmental relations through regular consultation and continuing negotiation in a non-adversarial manner." (READ: Can't afford to fail: Bangsamoro region weathers birth pains)

BARMM Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim has already informed Malacañang of the region's 7 representatives to the IGR, to be led by Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal. 

But Duterte, who has to name the central government's representatives to the group, has yet to do so. It's also up to Duterte to issue an executive order to form the IGR. No document has been released by the Palace as of writing. 

Office of the Presidential Adviser for Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU) spokesman Undersecretary Wilben Mayor told Rappler that their office has recommended Cabinet members to be part of the IGR, but Duterte has yet to act on their recommendation.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, OPAPRU Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana are among the suggested IGR members, said Mayor.

Prevent 'collision course'

Bangsamoro advocates, BOL experts, and Bangsamoro officials were one in calling for the immediate formation of the IGR during a forum on Tuesday, October 1, organized by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance.

"The IGR has to be established, the sooner, the better," said Robert Maulana Marohombsar Alonto, a member of the now-defunct Bangsamoro Transition Commission and peace panel negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. 

An IGR is "indispensable" in preventing a "collision course" between the BARMM and the central government, he said. 

Without an IGR to define the parameters of the relationship between the BARMM and the central government, the new region would encounter much confusion in implementing the most basic of its functions.

Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) member Don Mustapha Loong, who agrees with the urgent need for an IGR, said the absence of an IGR has already led to confusion.

"For example, the responsibility of the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) national to fund and implement national roads within the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro. There must already be an IGR to talk about the modalities of the implementation without intruding into the sensitive aspects of the autonomy of the Bangsamoro," he told Rappler.

Loong was speaking of a recent proposal from House members hailing from Bangsamoro provinces to create a "National DPWH" office in the BARMM, which drew an objection from BARMM Interior and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo who said power over highways and public works now lies with the new government.

Another issue which raised eyebrows of some BTA members was a September 6 memorandum from Interior Secretary Eduardo Año that "directs" local government executives, the BARMM chief minister, and BARMM local government minister "to refrain from using cellular phones when attending to clients."

What irked BTA officials was how the document appeared to lump Chief Minister Murad on the same level as Minister Sinarimbo, governors, and mayors.

"It has to be clarified on a national level, how they look at it. Can a secretary of DILG make a memorandum to make the chief minister of the Bangsamoro under it or as a collegial body?" said Loong. 

Such tussles and misunderstandings could erupt into irritations that would sour relations between the BARMM and central government.

Return to bad practices

The worst-case scenario would be the ultimate failure of the Bangsamoro government. 

Without an IGR, Alonto warned that Bangsamoro officials would again be "reduced to mendicancy," depending on Malacañang for additional funding, even with the provision of a block grant, or having to seek clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs before accepting international aid, even during calamities.

"Rather than concentrating on building new robust institutions that are catalysts for change during the transition period, Bangsamoro officials will be preoccupied with these digressions," said Alonto. 

The lack of an IGR may also herald the return of political patronage as a defining characteristic of central government and Bangsamoro government relations, he added. (READ: Power brokers in the Bangsamoro region)

Other intergovernmental mechanisms that have yet to be formed include the Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board, Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation, Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board, and Intergovernmental Energy Board, among others.

"Without the Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board, how will corporations in the BARMM pay their taxes? There is no delineation of our boundary, we cannot tax them because they are not yet part of the territorial jurisdiction of the BARMM unless the boundaries are defined," lamented BTA member Jose Lorena.

On the national government's side, Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano agreed that the IGR should have been among the first bodies formed.

"We see that the IGR is really a facility that will hasten things with the national government and Bangsamoro government. This body should have been created even before," he said.

OPAPRU's Mayor said he does not know when Duterte will finally issue the executive order creating the IGR. 

Duterte and Murad had agreed to form the body during a meeting last July 10. Nearly 3 months have passed since that meeting. 

Alonto ended his speech with an appeal to Duterte, the country's first Mindanaoan president.

"President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, he ran for the presidency, carrying this hope-inspiring slogan: 'Change has come.' So let it come. We are waiting." – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.