‘Vague’ self-rule provision present in draft BBL—priest

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MANILA, March 11, 2015—An official of the Church of the Philippines has raised what he observes to be loopholes present in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), noting the vague self-rule and loose financial management scheme it proposes for the southern region.

Isabela City residents read handouts that explain the details of the Comprehensive Agreement (CAB) on the Bangsamoro during a public forum on the Bangsamoro, May 21, 2014. (Photo: OPAPP)

Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, raised concerns on the limits of the Bangsamoro region’s right to self-rule as stated in the proposed law.

“To make it appear that the powers of the Central Government are not compromised and the right to self rule of the Bangsamoro is not jeopardized, the Draft BBL came up with the words ‘coordination and cooperation’ on matters that may potentially undermine both,” he said.

“The problem is the extent of coordination and cooperation is not clearly spelled out, hence, there’s a difficulty in determining what really ought to be done and what shouldn’t be,” he added.

“After reading the Draft though, I got the impression that the Bangsamoro’s right to self-rule seems to be favored, with the Central Government maybe consciously and slowly allowing the island of Mindanao to slip from its grip,” Secillano noted.

Financial management

The priest also said the draft BBL “guarantees the flow of money in Mindanao”, noting the need for judicious spending and religious auditing to ensure the efficient use of resources allocated for the region.

“Just like in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), money will not be a problem, too, for the Bangsamoro. The concern is its management,” Secillano said.

He noted that under the proposed law, the Philippine government is mandated to give “an annual block grant to the Bangsamoro which is estimated to be in the billions of pesos on top of the region’s revenue from its own (government owned and controlled corporations), taxes, business fees, ports’ collections, mining fees and the cultivation of its other natural resources among others.”

“The concern is its management. If it is not judiciously spent and religiously audited, we will continue to see in Mindanao bridges made of wood, unpaved roads, dilapidated classrooms, unrealized infrastructure projects and the most obvious sign of underdevelopment and inequality—mansions for its politicians and ‘barong-barong’ for ordinary Mindanaoans,” Secillano said.

Other revolutionary groups

He also expressed alarm over how the MILF will treat other armed groups in the south such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf, and the newly-organized Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM).

“From being a revolutionary group, (MILF) members now stand a chance to be the lawfully recognized leaders of the Bangsamoro entity once the BBL is passed,” Secillano said. “Will the Bangsamoro police go toe to toe with them or at least exercise its lawful authority to apprehend or arrest them?”

Secillano noted that the BBL is paving the way towards a “better, more financially rewarding” and more independent Bangasamoro region in the south “that has less Central Government control and intervention.”

“Under these circumstances, it is understandable why the MILF would so suddenly abandon their long held aspiration for independence and merely settle for ‘autonomy’,” he said.

“Not surprisingly, (MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher) Iqbal wouldn’t want a ‘watered down’ version of the Draft because the present one is the closest they have to gaining their independence,” he added. (Jennifer M. Orillaza/CBCP News)

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