By Arjay L. Balinbin
DEFENSE Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana on Saturday said the national government may exercise its power to “remove” any appointed transition leader who is “perceived to be sabotaging” the transition government of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
This is in response to the view by analysts interviewed by BusinessWorld that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which is composed of members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and other sectors, has “potential fractures” that can complicate efforts to fulfill its legislative priorities, including how a block grant is to be spent and the enactment of the region’s administrative and other codes during the three-year transition period.
Michael Henry LI. Yusingco, senior research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government, said via e-mail: “While we all pray that the BTA will be successful in shepherding the transition from ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) to BARMM, there are still potential fractures within the BTA that can hinder its success.”
“The first group would be the people who expected to be part of the BTA but for some reason or another were not appointed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte. They can play the role of spoilers to the BTA’s plan for the next three years. Just last week, we saw one personality from such group openly protesting that the composition of the BTA is akin to ‘tyranny.’ Moreover, we also heard one Moro group saying they will not even recognize the leadership of the BTA. How far will these disgruntled groups carry their feelings of disappointment with the BTA? This a question loaded with a lot of scary possibilities. But no clear answers yet for now,” he said.
The second group, Mr. Yusingco also said, “would be those appointed in the BTA who know nothing about being in government and are unwilling to learn how to be successful in their new roles.”
For his part, Mr. Lorenzana said via text: “The government will be closely watching the BTA. I believe the government has the power to remove anybody or group within the BTA who is perceived to be sabotaging it.”
Mr. Yusingco said the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is silent as to the power of the President to remove members from the BTA. “But inherent in the power to appoint is the power to remove. This is already an established principle of law in our jurisdiction. Hence, President Rodrigo R. Duterte can, for cause, remove any member of the BTA.”
But Mr. Lorenzana assured that factionalism within the BTA “will not happen [because] these people were chosen to do a job.”
“I believe in the leadership of Acting Chief Minister Murad [Ebrahim] and the MILF. I have talked to him and [MILF’s first vice chair] Ghazali Jaafar, and they have explained to me the objective of the BTA. That is to form a governing body and to craft laws that will serve the people of the BARMM. The Government has 39 nominees and we expect them to do their job as well,” the defense chief said.
Also in a phone message, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Q. Iqbal said: “That possibility might happen, but it is not good to underestimate the inner strength of our people to unite when there is a need for it. As long as the BTA under the leadership of the MILF will work for the common good, factionalism might not happen at all.”
Political history assistant professor Marlon B. Lopez of the Mindanao State University-Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography said via chat last Friday that “MNLF members are seeing the MILF-led BTA quite troubling” because only a few seats were given to the group. “It was seen as disregarding the MNLF and the people who are still loyal to the group. The Sama and Tausug people are also unhappy that the BTA is dominated by Maranaos and Maguindanaons. Equal representation in the BTA is a must, according to them.”
For her part, Yasmira P. Moner of the Young Moro Professionals Network and the Department of Political Science of MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology said factionalism will most likely happen.
“Most likely, pwedeng ganyan ang maging scenario (the scenario may turn out that way),” she said in a chat exchange.
Mr. Yusingco said the “potential fractures” he mentioned “will be severely tested…when decisions have to be made concerning the budgeting of the block grant.”
“Where will the funds go and for what? When the BTA starts to address these questions, the diversity in views and interests amongst the members of the BTA can be a difficult issue to overcome. If members retreat to their respective corners, meaning protect their own interests, then the BTA itself could be severely compromised,” he said, adding that “when the BTA is faced with making difficult policy decisions, the group fractures can rear its ugly head as well.”
“Bear in mind that this office will exercise legislative and executive powers over the new and expanded Bangsamoro autonomous region during the transition period. Hence, in the spirit of managing expectations, this immense power vested in the BTA begs the question as to how it should be wielded.”
“Given the BTA’s transitory existence, should it still pursue the enactment of substantive laws on local government, education, civil service and so forth? Or should the BTA focus primarily on organizing the regional bureaucracy and managing the administrative transition from ARMM to BARMM? Indeed, it can be argued that given the substantive nature of these proposed laws, it would be more appropriate to have a duly elected legislative body, such as the Bangsamoro Parliament, to draft and enact them according to the legislative procedure mandated by the BOL. Save perhaps the enactment of a new electoral code, the other matters requiring legislation can wait for the election of the first set of Bangsamoro parliamentarians in 2022,” Mr.Yusingco said.
“When the BTA is compelled by circumstances to face this issue, how will the various groups react? Again, retreating to their respective corners, meaning protecting their own interests, could be catastrophic for the prospects of the BARMM itself. Insisting on legislating these laws in such a short period of time can lead to the enactment of bad laws,” he added.
For his part, Mr. Lopez said: “The differences on the interpretation of the Shariah and the Hadith, especially among ustads who are being followed by MILF and MNLF members, will influence their decisions.”
The power struggle between the two groups, he said, “will surely affect [their decisions on] the election code and the apportionment of the shares of local government units.”
Ms. Moner said via phone interview that the transition leaders need a capacity-building support, “especially on the part of the MILF.”
“They need to be trained in leadership and technical know-how on how they are going to carry out their functions. There has to be a clarification of their roles and responsibilities. They have to be really learned, and it is both a challenge and an opportunity for them to strive,” she explained.
Mr. Yusingco said, “How they will blend with other members of the BTA, who have been studying and training to be part of the new regional government the past years, remains to be seen. Will this novice group of BTA members be able to adjust to the politics and politicking? Will they remain true to their revolutionary ideals? Or will they also succumb to the temptations of money politics? Again, no definitive answers to these questions yet.”
Ms. Moner said majority of the Moro people are “hopeful and optimistic” that BARMM will succeed. “But there are also skeptics because this is a new region and there are new devolved powers.”
The budget, she also said, remains an issue to them “because as far as we know the first year budget for the interim government is still the budget from the previous ARMM.”
“Hence, it is very early to judge what this interim government could deliver,” Ms. Moner said further.
By Arjay L. Balinbin