By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Congress bicameral committee approved Wednesday the final version of the proposed Bangsamoro law.
After almost two weeks of debates — which even involved the President — and two missed self-imposed deadlines, the bicameral panel approved the reconciled version of the bill that is seen to address conflicts and violent extremism in Mindanao.
From the original Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) the bill was amended to be the proposed “Bangsamoro Organic Law” to adhere to the 1987 Constitution.
A ceremonial signing of the bicameral commmittee report took place as a clean copy of the bill is yet to be produced.
Following the approval, the two chambers of Congress are set to ratify the reconciled bill in their respective chambers when sessions resume Monday, in time for President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The approval of the final version marks the first year anniversary of the submission of the draft BBL to President Duterte.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the Senate bicam panel, expressed hope that the approval of the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law will “address the aspirations of our brothers and sisters in the Bangsamoro” and “convince the population not to join extremist groups.”
Bangsamoro Transition Commission chair and Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Ghazali Jaafar said they are satisfied with how the Bangsamoro measure came about.
“It may not be a perfect law, but it is good to start with,” Jaafar said as he thanked the bicameral committee.
Zubiri said that the enactment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law will lead to the economical development of Mindanao and the country.
“When guns go silent in the island of Mindanao, that would lead to the advantage of every Filipino,” he said.
Contentious provisions slowed down the deliberations of the bicameral committee. Lawmakers earlier hoped to finish last Thursday, and then on Tuesday, but to no avail.
Following the grueling bicam meeting Wednesday night, House Majority Leader Roldolfo Fariñas said he is confident that the final version of the Bangsamoro law will “definitely” stand the test of constitutionality.
“Because we were very careful. Precisely, we had several problems along the way because we could not grant evrything they want. An in [all] fairness to them they accepted everything,” he said.
Zubiri and Fariñas agreed that the bicam was most challenged on the provisions of the Bangsamoro territory which triggered a brief deadlock.
President Duterte then settled the deadlock over the Bangsamoro territory. The Bicam adopted the House version which excludes the 39 villages of North Cotabato and six municipalities of Lanao del Norte from the Bangsamoro autonomous region without approval of their mother provinces despite their 2001 vote to be included in the ARMM.
Legislators had to make revisions Tuesday over provisions subjecting the Bangsamoro parliament under “national laws” as opposed by the BTC, which crafted the BBL.
The bicam, following an executive session of more than an hour, decided to delete the words of contention.
There were also debates on the Bangsamoro preamble, territorial waters, and the plebiscite.
Zubiri said their deliberation of the BBL, which started July 9, had been one of the longest bicameral conference aside from that of the national budget. It was even longer than the Duterte administration’s priority Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion which took only four days, he said.
New Bangsamoro region
The proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law, once enacted, will create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to replace the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The proposed Bangsamoro region shall have a parliamentary system of government, which parliament shall have 80 members. A Chief Minister shall be voted to lead the Bangsamoro region, and two Deputy Chief Ministers from the mainland and island provinces, respectively.
The proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law would also provide the Bangsamoro autonomous region its fiscal autonomy to ensure long-term development.
The region shall have an automatic allocation of the annual block grant, which would be five percent of the internal revenue and customs taxes collected by the national government, or about P60 billion.
Aside from the block grant, further assistance would also be provided to the Bangsamoro region, such as the special development fund; and taxes collected by the Bangsamoro, such as capital gains tax, donor’s tax, estate tax, and documentary stamp tax.
A 75-25 percent wealth-sharing term in favor of the Bangsamoro was adopted and taxing powers already granted to the ARMM were retained.
Lawmakers earlier assured that transparency and accountabilty measures are in place to ensure that the grant, which amounts about P60 billion, will be used properly.
For instance, Commission of Audit (COA) in the Bangsamoro region would still be under the COA National. Aside from COA, an internal auditing body shall also be created to review how the grant is spent.
A plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law shall take place at least 90 to 150 days after President Duterte had sign it into law.
Zubiri said they look into having a plebiscite by November to allow the Commision on Elections to prepare.
A Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) shall lead the transition from the current ARMM government to Bangsamoro parliament.
The President shall appoint lead members fo the BTA, which shall be composed of 80 members. The elected officials of the current ARMM government shall automatically become members of the BTA and shall serve June 30, 2019, unless otherwise subsequently appointed by the President.
Non-moro indigenous communities, youth, women, settler communities, traditional leaders, and other sectors shall have representatives in the BTA.
The BTA shall lead the parliament for three years until the national elections on 2022.