Bicameral panel approves block grants in draft BBL

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By Charmaine A. Tadalan

CONTENTION ON the annual fund, or block grant, that the national government will grant to the Bangsamoro government has been settled by the Bicameral Conference Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The Senate panel has agreed to remove conditions on the release of the block grant and automatically appropriate it to the Bangsamoro Government.

“We will keep the block grant similar to the IRA or Internal Revenue Allotment of the local governments, wherein it is automatically appropriated,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri told reporters in an interview late Monday.

The block grant is the proposed annual share for the Bangsamoro region from national revenues. In the congressional version, it is 5% of the net internal revenue collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs, lower than the 6% block grant proposed by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

While the House and Senate versions did not differ much, the Senate Bill had provided conditions in the release of the block grant.

“Previously, there was a reportorial requirement. You have to report the plans and programs first to this intergovernmental body, financial or fiscal body, before the release can actually be made,” Mr. Zubiri said.

The Committee decided at length to delete the provision, on the condition that transparency and accountability measures will be enhanced.

“So (let’s release the fund) with the (collateral) that the parliament must pass the budget and the funds will be appropriated through the approved budget of parliament,” Mr. Zubiri said, adding that the Commission on Audit (CoA) will be tasked to submit audit reports as required by government agencies such as the Department of Budget and Management and Department of Finance.

Aside from the block grant, the House provision allowing the Bangsamoro government to collect the capital gains tax, documentary stamp tax, donor’s tax and estate tax has been adopted by the Committee.

“There are four revenue generating taxes that are really exclusive to the government. The government is willing to seed those four taxes to the Bangsamoro,” Mr. Zubiri explained in a press briefing Tuesday. “But what we are talking about, if we look at the records last year, it’s only about P80 million worth of tax collected.”

Further, the Committee also agreed to retain the House provision on wealth sharing at 75-25, in favor of the Bangsamoro region.

“On the wealth sharing, we agreed on the House version, which is the BTC version of 75-25. 75 percent of the income is retained by the Bangsamoro government, 25 percent is given to national government,” Mr. Zubiri said.

Further, the anti-political dynasty provision of the Senate version has also been removed from the bill.

The House panel, led by the Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas, said by phone message: “It would disqualify the 2nd civil degree relatives by affinity (Muslims are allowed to have four spouses) of a PR (party representatives) but not the same people with whom such PR is cohabiting or living in without the benefit of marriage.”

Meanwhile, the Committee has yet to decide on the provision on territorial plebiscite as discussions heat up among the panelists.

“We decided to hold it to the last day, medyo mainit, napakatindi ng discussions na nangyare dun (the discussions were intense), so we said, let’s put this on hold,” Mr. Zubiri said.

The BTC is leaning towards the provision in the Senate version which will recognize the vote of 39 barangays in North Cotabato and six municipalities in Lanao del Norte separately from their provinces.

“The fundamental difference of the two versions is (in) the House version. It has to be majority vote of the province. In the Senate version, that is not necessary,” Mr Zubiri said.

He added: “the proponents of the BTC version is saying na wala silang chance na manalo kung mother province ang magdidesisyon (they don’t stand a chance if the mother province decides).”