Senate committee seeks to ban dynasties, turncoatism in Bangsamoro

MANILA, Philippines – The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which seeks to abolish and replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is now up for Senate debates, after Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri sponsored the committee report on Wednesday, February 28.

But the most "innovative"parts of the landmark bill are the provisions seeking to ban political dynasties and turncoatism in the region – which members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and ARMM politicians earlier opposed, claiming it is another form of experiment for them.

“[It] penalizes the unprincipled transfer from one party to another which is a problem in this country. This Bill proposes that if Member of the Parliament, after having been elected under the proportional representation system, transfers to another during his incumbency, he will forfeit his seat,” Zubiri said in his sponsorship speech on Wednesday, February 28.

“No party representative should be related within the 2nd civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to a district representative or another party representative in the same parliament,” he said.

Zubiri, however, said the anti-dynasty provision only covers the Bangsamoro government and would exclude mayors and governors: “Because really we are still awaiting a national anti-dynasty law.”

Salient features

Territory: The core territory includes the current ARMM – Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan – 6 municipalities in Lanao del Norte, cities of Cotabato and Isabela, and 39 barangays in North Cotabato.

There is also an opt-in provision for contiguous areas or those areas sharing a common border with Bangsamoro. These areas can join the plebiscite through a petition by at least 20% of registered voters and only if their mother unit allows them to do so. It is a response to the opposition of Zamboanga City officials, who said they should never be part of the region.

The 6 municipalities of Lanao del Norte and the 39 barangays in North Cotabato already voted yes in the 2001 plebiscite for inclusion in the ARMM. But they were not included in the ARMM due to a technical issue.

The city of Isabela in Basilan voted against joining the ARMM in 2001 and opted to remain part of the Zamboanga Peninsula region.

Zubiri, in a hearing in the city in February, said more livelihood and infrastructure would enter the city if it agrees to join the region.

The bill proposes that the plebiscite be held in the core territory and in the contiguous areas who may petition for inclusion. The ARMM would be allowed to vote as one unit.

Bangsamoro Government: The measure grants the region self-governance in the hopes that it would end the region’s “feeling of alienation,” Zubiri sid.

If passed into law, the region would have a parliamentary government, with the Chief minister as head of government and supported by a cabinet. It would be composed of 50% party representatives, 40% directly elected members, and 10% sectoral representatives.

This is also where the proposed anti-dynasty and turncoatism provisions would apply.

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) would be the interim government and would allow the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to transition from a rebel organization to governance through a peaceful democratic process.

“While the BTA will be led by the MILF, other sectors in the Bangsamoro will be represented. The transition period under the Bill will be for 3 years which will be a sufficient time to stabilize the region and hopefully kick start development and reforms,” Zubiri said.

Central vs Regional: The central government has authority over foreign policy, defense, monetary policy, immigration, and citizenship, among others.

The Bangsamoro’s exclusive powers include authority over social services delivery and community development, such as agriculture, public administration, waste management, and others.

The shared powers between the two include social security and pensions, public order and safety, civil service, coast guard, auditing, and administration of justice, among others.

To guard against corruption, the measure seeks to create the Bangsamoro Auditing Office (BAO) to conduct pre- and post-audit of projects. A regional office of the Commission on Audit would be put in place.

Justice system: The region would be allowed to implement Shariah law if the parties are Muslims or if those involved would voluntarily submit to the jurisdiction of the Shariah court. Regular courts would continue to function.

The justice system allows them to practice their religions and recognize the uniqueness of their culture and identity while maintaining the control and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over the Shariah Court system.

Public order and safety: The Bangsamoro Police remains a part of the PNP. The Bill operationalizes Section 21, Article 10 of the Constitution that gives local authorities the ability to manage peace and order.

Fiscal autonomy: The region would enjoy the “maximum form of fiscal autonomy” and would be authorized to prepare and pass its own budget.

If passed into law, the Bangsamoro would get unconditional funding from government revenues. This is in stark contrast to the current scheme where the ARMM is required to get congressional nod for funds and projects.

The measure mandates the national government to give the Bangsamoro region an “annual block grant” or share in net collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs. (READ: P72B yearly for Bangsamoro region if BBL passed)

The region would also get its share in revenue from exploration development and utilization of natural resource. The proposed tax scheme is 75-25, in favor of the region.

This is also on top of a P100 billion Special Development Fund to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure in the region. The fund will be released in 10 equal installments for years and will be utilized based on Development Plan which they would create.

What now?

Senators would now study the committee report. After which, they would interpellate Zubiri on the provisions of the bill. Some would also push for their own amendments. No heated debates are expected, as most, if not all, senators are in favor of the BBL. After that, the measure would be approved on second reading. After 3 days, it could be approved for third and final reading.

A counterpart measure remains pending in the House of Representatives. The bill would have to face the same legislative process there. But with President Rodrigo Duterte supporting the measure, the House, filled with his allies, is likely to pass this soon. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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