‘Solid fiscal program’ for Bangsamoro region sought

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By Camille A. Aguinaldo

FINANCE SECRETARY Carlos G. Dominguez III on Tuesday said the Department of Finance (DoF) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) are willing to provide technical assistance to local officials in coming up with a sound fiscal policy for the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

“We are very willing. I’m sure that the Budget department and us are very willing to assist the Bangsamoro (region) on planning your revenues, planning your budget, planning your expense so that you will come up with a solid fiscal program,” Mr. Dominguez said at the Senate hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Under the proposed law, the Bangsamoro region would enjoy “the maximum form of fiscal autonomy with the end in view of attaining economic self-sufficiency and genuine development.” The region would also have the power to create its sources of revenues, to prepare its budget and to allocate funds.

Mr. Dominguez said he wanted the region’s fiscal autonomy as proposed in the bill to be “very carefully phased,” noting that expertise on handling the matter could not be developed overnight.

“Fiscal management is not easy. People have to practice, have to get experience in doing it and we have the experienced people and we are willing to help them,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing.

Also at the hearing, Mr. Dominguez sought certain fiscal provisions in the bill to clearly differentiate the role of the national government and the Bangsamoro government, especially on the implementation of national programs in the region.

He said the national government could coordinate and monitor with the Bangsamoro region on programs concerning infrastructure, investment incentives, taxation, health and tourism.

Asked if this would run counter to the autonomy principle, Mr. Dominguez said, “The decision can be made by them. But we can do it together. We can co-implement.”

If the Bangsamoro authority has developed its own expertise, then the block grants could increase and the supervision could be less, Mr. Dominguez added.

According to the draft BBL, the Bangsamoro region would receive an annual block grant or a share of the national internal revenue equivalent to 6% of the net collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC).

Mr. Dominguez said any funding scheme for the proposed region should be “programmatic, transparent, performance-based and phased to ensure effective utilization of the funds.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the 11th and final of the marathon hearings held by the Senate subcommittee on BBL chaired by Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri.

In the coming weeks, the technical working groups will go through the provisions of the BBL to ensure its constitutionality, Mr. Zubiri said. He also hoped the Senate would pass the proposed measure on March 22, two days before Congress adjourns.

“What is important (is) we will not water down the measure. As much as possible, we will strengthen it,” he told reporters.