By Keith Bacongco
COTABATO CITY – In 50 years of sporadic peace, the signing of the Organic Law on the Bangsamoro for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM) into law by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has bolstered hopes that decades of conflict and marginalization in Muslim dominated areas in Mindanao may finally come to an end.
Though some believe that the measure may not be the absolute solution, at least, it could contribute in laying the foundations for genuine and lasting economic, political, and social reforms in the region.
The decades of conflict did not only polarize the populace, but it also shelved the economic potentials of the region.
For the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF), there is so much promise that the Bangsamoro government would be mutually beneficial to all sectors in the region.
“It’s a formula for peace,” pointed out MILF Implementing Chair Mohagher Iqbal pointed out, adding that they hope to see a more harmonious atmosphere among the constituents in the region.
He added that OLBARMM was not just crafted for the welfare of those within the Bangsamoro territory, but was also tailored for everyone to mutually share its benefits.
But first, Iqbal emphasized, the grassroots and the other sectors must be educated to fully understand the law.
“There is a need for a dialogue with those within and outside the territory that will be covered by the plebiscite. We need to discuss how this new law would be beneficial to all,” he explained, while referring to the upcoming plebiscite required
for the ratification of the law, as well as the inclusion of the some areas in the proposed territory.
Under the law, the government will hold the plebiscite not more than 150 days from the signing of the BOL into law, but not earlier than 90 days.
Aside from the present ARMM (the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan), other proposed inclusion are the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan; six towns in Lanao del Norte and the 39 barangays in six towns of North Cotabato.
Except for cities of Cotabato and Isabela, all other areas voted yes to their inclusion in the ARMM in a 2001 plebiscite.
North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza says the provincial government is open to any dialogue. “I agree na dapat may dialogue,” she told Manila Bulletin in reaction to Iqbal’s statement
Mendoza said dialogue could help address the concerns of all the stakeholders.
“Only an informed citizenry could make an informed choice. She also hopes that the Bangsamoro law would have a positive impact on the lives of the people in the region and bring long lasting peace and development not only the region and in the entire country. “I welcome and fully support this peace initiative.”
Not a perfect law but…
While admitting that OLBARMM may not be a perfect law, it is something that the Bangsamoro people can start with, said Iqbal who also chairs the MILF’s information committee.
He said the law was 85 percent compliant with Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), a peace deal they signed with the government on March 27, 2014. The OLBARMM is the enabling law of the CAB.
One of the most important provisions, Iqbal cited, was on the powers of the autonomous government.
“Autonomy means powers and access to resources,” he explained adding that having autonomy should also mean having a good engine in running the government.
“The engine is very important, which is the parliamentary form of government. It’s less politics and quick decision.”
Aside from the 55 powers provided in the law, the Bangsamoro government will also get huge boosts in the existing powers granted to the current ARMM government, he added.
Moreover, Iqbal underscored the importance of having the Special Development Fund for the reparation of war-ravaged communities in Mindanao. “But it would take about 20 years for our communities to fully recover.”
Under the law, the government will provide P5 billion every year for a period of 10 years in accordance with the Bangsamoro Development Plan. Former war-torn areas are not just located inside the current ARMM, but are spread across neighboring provinces.
In terms of legislation, Iqbal noted that the Bangsamoro government would prioritize education, social services, economic empowerment, and health services.
The MILF official also highlighted another salient point of the OLBARMM, particularly on wealth sharing, saying that the provision would provide more resources to further boost the economic programs and services of the Bangsamoro government.
Under the new law, the Bangsamoro government will get 75 percent from local taxes and 25 percent will go to the national government after 10 years.
In one of the recent forums, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan said this provision in the OLBARMM would unlock the potentials of the region.
Since resources are not provided every year, Tan said the ARMM government has to beg to Congress to get its annual budget.
“It’s in the organic law before that the region shall appropriate the funds. What is there to appropriate? There is no income,” said Tan, who had served as ARMM’s vice governor from 1993 to 1996.
Furthermore, the former ARMM official pointed out that OLBARRM is not just a commitment to the CAB, but a reform law.
Meanwhile, Iqbal belied allegation made by critics of the MILF that it the commitment and sincerity should it be primarily tasked to run the autonomous government.
“We have the dedication in pursuing our struggle for almost 50 years. And that basic qualities can be brought in to the Bangsamoro government. And these would become our strength in pursuing good governance, transparency, and accountability,” he added.
However, he admitted that running a revolutionary struggle is different from nation-building. “In revolution, you are simply destroying. That’s one of the basic the essence of revolution. In nation building, you’re constructing a nation,” he said.