In the aftermath of the botched January 26th operation that led to the deaths of 44 Special Action Forces(SAF) commandos and the continuing investigation over the incident, further hearings for the passage of House Bill No. 4994 or the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, will be suspended until the conclusion of the ongoing investigations over the Mamasapano incident.
Also known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the law aspires to achieve the goal of self determination of the Bangsamoro people, put an end to decades of strife and bloodshed and to finally bring prosperity to the region. Provisions of the law include the right of self governance, the right to keep a lion’s share of tax revenues and the exclusive powers on matters such as budgeting, collecting fees and attracting foreign investments.
Outside the Bangsamoro, the BBL is also widely supported by political leaders and advocates, who have have stated that the BBL has fuelled the desire and the calls to push for the establishment of a federal parliamentary republic. These calls were also echoed by Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who said that the wealth sharing provisions and privileges of the BBL would set the stage for the same provisions be given to other provinces.
A closer look at these provisions show that these are done with the best of intentions and with the aim of bringing lasting peace and prosperity to the far flung provinces. The objectives of the law and the push for self governance and autonomy seem laudable. But will passing the BBL and letting the individual regions and provinces rule themselves finally bring lasting peace and prosperity?
Recently, the BusinessMirror published an editorial titled “Already a Failed State”, which discussed the current state of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao(ARMM). The author writes ” But what is being ignored in the conversation is that after 26 years of a degree of autonomy, the people of the ARMM are really no better off today than at the beginning”. It adds ” Poverty is the highest of any province in the country. The ARMM receives approximately 98 percent of its operating revenue from the National Government, and has yet to create significant, viable sources of additional revenue. The ARMM government is unable to keep peace and order in its own territory, not due primarily to national government interference, but because of factions within its own people”.
One can argue that the reason for the passage of BBL was to correct the “failed experiment” that led to the establishment of the ARMM. But one wonders why despite 26 years of relative self-autonomy, we have not seen any positive changes in the region?.
A white paper published by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung(KAS) written by Freedom from Debt Coalition vice president James Matthew Miraflor echoes the same sentiment of the BusinessMirror editorial. Titled “Bangsamoro, the Devolution Failure, and India-style Federalism: A Case for Asymmetric Autonomy and Strategic Reapportionment”, it highlights the current pitfalls of decentralization and autonomy and the potential repercussions of establishing a federal government.
In the paper, he cites former UP President Francisco Nemenzo who stated that federalism cannot work “with a government that operates within the context of elite rule. And not when political parties are mere temporary alliances that do not have long-term plans for the country”. Another observation of the author is ” That the Local Government Code of 1991 resulted in the strengthening of political dynasties – the existence of which compromised the central state’s monopoly of arms through extensive use of private armies.”
But the most damaging observation of the author is made quoting former Budget secretary Benjamin Diokno ; “With LGUs racing to attain the status of a city in order to get a higher share of Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). It also fostered dependence as IRA became substitute to local taxation – with IRA’s share of total revenues in 2010 pegged 79 percent, 75 percent, and 50 percent for municipalities, provinces and cities, respectively” . He further adds ” Health, nutrition, and population accounted for less than 10 percent of total local spending. Spending for social security services and welfare is slightly less than 2.5 percent. More was spent for salaries of officials and employees, and in running the offices. Diokno traces this to the loose assignment of functions and the propensity of the central government to spend for activities already devolved to LGUs, creating a perverse incentive structure.”
Based on current statistics, there are 15 provinces where more than 40 percent of the population live below the poverty level and 10 of those provinces are in Mindanao. While one can cite the continuing insurgency as the root cause of poverty, then why do provinces like Northern and Eastern Samar, far from the war and bloodshed, still fall under the poverty category?
While proponents of BBL and the federal parliamentary system continue to stress the supposed excellence and the substantial benefits it would bring to the country, one cannot simply ignore the current realities around us and the possible repercussions. Unless there is a framework in place that can be realistically applied to the Philippines that can negate the ill-effects of such propositions, the implementation would result in tickling the dragon’s tail. And there are dire consequences in doing so.
Stock photos from POC. Some rights reserved.