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Coronel hits 'top 2 trending lies' on BBL

MANILA, Philippines – Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government's chief peace negotiator with Moro rebels, sought to clarify "inaccurate" reports on the features of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

In a forum on Thursday, March 5, Ferrer said there have been "top two trending lies" on the proposed law that have proliferated in the media in the past days. These are:

A product of the peace pact between rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government, the BBL seeks to create a new autonomous region with greater fiscal and political powers.

Ferrer said there is nothing in the bill that states that the Bangsamoro will get its own police force, much more its own army. 

"It is clear in the text that (the Bansamoro police) is part of the national police. It is under the control and supervision of the (National Police Commission). It is not the MILF that will become the police. It is not the MILF that will be armed. All of these conclusions are being derived from a basic misreading or misrepresentation of the provision," Ferrer said. 

Article XI Section 2 of the proposed BBL states: 

 There is hereby created a Bangsamoro Police which shall be organized, maintained, supervised, and utilized for the primary purpose of law enforcement and maintenance of peace and order in the Bangsamoro. It shall be part of the Philippine National Police.

The Bangsamoro Police shall be professional, civilian in character, regional in scope, effective and efficient in law enforcement, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control, and accountable under the law for its actions. It shall be responsible both to the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government, and to the communities it serves.

Under the proposed law, the Bangsamoro police would remain part of the Philippine National Police but the Bangsamoro chief minister would have operational control and supervision, as well as disciplinary powers, over the body, the MILF said in an editorial in Luwaran.com

Unlike the peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front under the Ramos administration, neither the BBL nor the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro guarantees the integration of MILF rebels into the police force. 

Instead, the MILF agreed to a staggered decommissioning of firearms in exchange for the creation of the proposed Bangsamoro government. 

Block grant

On the issue of block grant, Ferrer denied that the Bangsamoro government will get P75 billion under the proposed law, as earlier reported. 

Under the BBL, the Bangsamoro government will receive a "block grant" of 4% of the 60% share of the national government in the total internal revenue allotment (IRA). This means the Bangsamoro is designed to get 2.4% of the total revenue collection. This will be a separate amount from the internal revenue allotment (IRA) for local government units (LGUs).  

The block grant would allow the Bangsamoro government to get automatic appropriations without seeking the approval of Congress every year unlike the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which it seeks to replace. 

Some House members have questioned the amount and the mechanism for the block grant, with others saying that the same arrangements should also be granted to other LGUs. 

In a press conference Tuesday, March 3, Zamboanga City 1st district Representative Celso Lobregat said that while the block grant can be likened to the internal revenue allotment (IRA) for local government units (LGUs), it is more lenient. 

"(The Bangsamoro budget) will be approved by Bangsamoro panel - not by Congress, not by anybody else. You can liken it to IRA but IRA is subjected to so many guidelines and regulations. There are many local government officials are complaining that we are supposed to be autonomous but there are so many guidelines from the DBM," Lobregat said. 

In a November 2014 forum, MILF chief negotiator and Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairperson Mohagher Iqbal said the Bangsamoro expects to get an initial funding of at least P70 billion in its first year of operation. 

His computation includes the IRA of LGUs, which is automatically appropriated to LGUs under the law, as well as the budget of the regional arm of national agencies. 

Ferrer on Thursday clarified that only about P35 billion would go directly to the Bangsamoro government – to be sourced from the block grant and two other funds to be granted to the region in its first year of operation. 

Phases

The government peace panel estimates the block grant would amount to about P27 billion in 2016 – the target creation of the Bangsamoro – based on 2013 total revenue collections. 

On the first year of operation, the Bangsamoro government will get a P7 billion special development fund and a P1 billion transition fund.  

While the P70-P75 billion figure includes the IRA for LGUs, as well as money lodged in national agencies in the proposed Bangsamoro, the money will go directly to these units, not the Bangsamoro government, Ferrer said. 

Besides, the P75 billion figure is "not a big deal" when compared to the P62-billion total budget that the ARMM got last year, said Senator Angara, who was also a guest in the forum. 

Lawmakers should also note that the payment for the salaries of teachers is sourced from the ARMM budget since the jurisdiction over this was devolved to them, Ferrer said. In other LGUs, the Department of Education pays for teachers' salaries. 

Congress leaders agreed on a June timeline to pass the proposed law but deliberation in both chambers of Congress remain suspended in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash. – Rappler.com