A BANGSAMORO Transition Authority (BTA) member has called on the national government to immediately set up the Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) Body that will facilitate interactions with the newly-formed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

At a forum conducted by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) last May 2, BTA Member Eddie M. Alih noted that the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) mandates the BARMM’s transition government to accomplish within three years its priority legislations.

These include codes on administration, internal revenue, indigenous people’s affairs, civil service, elections, local government, and education.

“I think even in the process of crafting these codes, it is very important that we have to coordinate with the national government. So dapat lang ito ang unahin (it should really be a priority). Before crafting these different codes, we should already be starting to coordinate…. That’s the importance of the IGR Body,” Mr. Alih said in an audio file emailed by the IAG to BusinessWorld on May 3.

The forum, held at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) headquarters in Quezon City, was conducted in coordination with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Ateneo School of Government, and DILG.

He added, “We hope that… the National Government-BARMM IGR Body will be created as soon as possible time to help the Bangsamoro government.”

DILG Assistant Secretary and Spokesperson Jonathan E. Malaya said DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año will still have to be briefed on the matter.

“Moving forward, we may need to brief the Secretary because he has to understand the implications of this…. We need to brief the Secretary and give you options… while in transition, because…we want BARMM to succeed,” Mr. Malaya said at the forum.

He added that the DILG will consider using the 2009 administrative orders (AOs) 273 and 273-A issued by then president Gloria M. Arroyo, which the Supreme Court upheld, delegating her supervisory powers over the then Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the DILG.

Following the ratification of the BOL earlier this year, the BARMM has replaced the ARMM.

“Maybe in the context of IGR… there seems to be an agreement that the IGR mechanism is the best way to move forward, DILG (will use its) delegated authority… to be able to begin the IGR mechanism, working of course with the Moro government,” Mr. Malaya said.

In his presentation, Chief Operations Officer of IAG Development Consulting Inc. (IDCI) Ishak V. Mastura defined IGR as “the processes and institutions through which governments within a political system interact.”

“IGR occurs most importantly in the ‘vertical’ relationship between the central government and sub-national governments,” he explained, adding that it is primarily “a function of the executive arm of government.”

Under Section 2 of the BOL, an IGR body is to be created “to coordinate and resolve issues on intergovernmental relations through regular consultation and continuing negotiation in a non-adversarial manner.”

Other IGR bodies under the BOL include the Philippine Congress – Bangsamoro Parliament Forum, Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board, Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation, Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board, Intergovernmental Energy Board, and Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board.

Mr. Mastura said the BOL can largely work as a framework of autonomy “provided that the limits of national government intrusions on autonomy are defined thru the IGR created by the BOL.”

“Maybe the IGR Body can even be used to devolve powers to BARMM as or if necessary?” he added, noting that there were powers removed in the grant of autonomy that shows the unitary intent of the BOL.

He said the “Local administration, municipal corporations and other local authorities….” were “deleted in the final version” of the BOL.

Removing these items, Mr. Mastura said, “curtails” BOL Art. VI on IGR which states: ” Sec. 10. Bangsamoro Government and its Constituent Local Government Units. — The authority of the Bangsamoro Government to regulate the affairs of its constituent local government units shall be guaranteed in accordance with this Organic Law and a Bangsamoro local government code to be enacted by the Parliament. The privileges already enjoyed by local government units under Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the ‘Local Government Code of 1991,’ as amended, and other existing laws shall not be diminished.”

Mr. Mastura further said that the BARMM “can also exercise its autonomous powers by assuming governmental power to the extent that it sees fit under the BOL until such time that it is questioned or a controversy arises in the exercise of that power.”

”If there is such a dispute, it can be tackled at the IGR Body. The risk is that the BARMM authorities may be skirting ‘color of authority’ instead of a stable policy of rule of law that is recognized by all in the region and by the national government,” he added.

The term ‘color of authority’, he said, means the “appearance or presumption of an official or legal power given to a person or an institution to do something.”

Sought for comment, Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, lawyer and Ateneo Policy Center senior research fellow noted that “the most challenging” item in the BTA’s to-do-list is the “familiarization of the entire Bangsamoro community to the new parliamentary structure of the regional government.”

“Parliamentary principles and procedures, inter-agency relations and management, values-based leadership, fiscal policy formulation and sustainable development management are just a few examples of the competencies the new Bangsamoro regional government leaders and officials need to learn under such a limited timetable,” he said in an e-mail on Sunday.

He said the IGR could be the “game-changer” for the BARMM.

“Hence, the organization of the IGR bodies under the BOL also has to be prioritized. More specifically, the BTA in partnership with the DILG can organize a small cohort of civil servants from the BARMM and the central government to undergo a specialized training on IGR. This group then can write a general principles handbook which can then guide the organization of the IGR bodies mandated by the BOL,” he explained.

He stressed that attending to the parliamentary structure of the BARMM and the IGR bodies under the BOL “must be the most urgent priorities” now of the BTA.

“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,” he said further.

“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.” — Arjay L. Balinbin