Bangsamoro leaders will never have to face Congress to defend their budget because the Moro homeland in Mindanao will get an automatic appropriation in the national budget.
“This is the jewel in the crown,” the chief government peace negotiator, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, told reporters on Monday at a briefing in Malacañang on the wealth-sharing deal that the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, late Saturday.
The deal, struck after six days of negotiations, clears the way for the government and the MILF to divide up income from taxes and natural resources in the autonomous Bangsamoro region that will be established after they sign a final peace agreement that will end four decades of Moro insurgency in Mindanao, which has cost an estimated 150,000 lives.
Under the deal, the government has agreed to let the MILF-led Bangsamoro have a 75-percent share of earnings from natural resources and metallic minerals in Bangsamoro.
For energy resources, both sides agreed to split earnings equally.
All earnings from exploration, development and utilization of nonmetallic minerals will go to Bangsamoro.
Of taxes collected by the national government in the autonomous region, the deal raised Bangsamoro’s share to 75 percent, up from the current 70 percent for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Ferrer described the deal as “fair, viable and constitutional.”
She said the wealth-sharing annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed by the two sides last October would need no amendments to the Constitution.
The annex mandates the central government to provide an automatic appropriation for Bangsamoro, which will replace the ARMM.
The appropriation will be in the form of a block grant, a lump-sum amount similar to the internal revenue allotment (IRA) received by local governments from the national government.
The Bangsamoro basic law will provide the formula for the computation of the block grant.
At present, the ARMM budget is a line item in the General Appropriations Act, and is itemized as capital outlay, personnel services and miscellaneous and other operating expenses.
“We will have far better sets of institutions and powers for the Bangsamoro government than what is currently enjoyed in the ARMM. That is for sure,” said Ferrer, explaining why the government had given more concessions to Bangsamoro this time.
She said the idea behind giving Bangsamoro the bigger share of revenue from natural resources was to fulfill the Bangsamoro people’s aspiration “to be at least autonomous” on fiscal matters.
“We all know that if you don’t have your own money, you cannot really be autonomous,” Ferrer said.
At present, the ARMM is totally dependent on the central government for revenue and financial aid, which “does not speak well for autonomy,” she said. “And I think you [have to hand it] to the MILF that they are really driven by that sincere desire to be able to stand (on their own),” Ferrer said.
Backed by Aquino
The sharing formula has the full backing of President Aquino, Ferrer added.
She said the negotiators adopted the MILF proposal that Bangsamoro’s revenue from additional taxes and share of income from natural resources be deducted from the annual block grant in the fourth year of operation of the Bangsamoro government.
“This provision came from the MILF. It indicated that behind the haggling for [bigger] shares is the intent to [make Bangsamoro] less and less dependent on the national government,” Ferrer said.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told the Inquirer earlier that the MILF gave the negotiations on wealth-sharing special attention “because the resources under the disposal of the future Bangsamoro will give meaning to its political autonomy.”
“Fiscal autonomy goes hand in hand with political autonomy,” Iqbal said.
The MILF’s position was for Bangsamoro “to get more than what the ARMM currently gets,” he said.
Since the executive had been consulting lawmakers on the matter, Ferrer said she was confident that Congress would honor the deal.
In a forum at Ateneo Law School on Monday, lawyer Armi Bayot, a member of the legal team from the Office of the Solicitor General, said the government panel agreed to remove references to the regalian doctrine in the wealth-sharing annex to show respect and acknowledge the history of the Bangsamoro people.
Embodied in Section 2 of Article XII of the Constitution, the regalian doctrine states that all lands and natural resources in the public domain belong to the state.
Bayot said the regalian doctrine would not cease to exist, as it is part of the Constitution, but it was not necessary to include it in the wealth-sharing annex to the Bangsamoro peace template.
“Removing it from the annex is a sign of respect and acknowledgment of the history of the Bangsamoro people,” Bayot said.
Ferrer and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles predicted that the talks on the remaining annexes on the disarming of the MILF and power-sharing would be as intense and difficult.
“The signing of the second annex is, indeed, a breakthrough. We expect the discussions on the power-sharing and normalization annexes to be just as intense,” Ferrer said. “But when you’re halfway through, there is no reason to turn back.”
“This has been a truly difficult time in the negotiations, but we come away with the affirmation, with the real strong sense and proof that indeed things can be as difficult, as we know they will, that the next annexes will also be difficult,” Deles said.
“But, as has been shown, and we have the proof now,… we, together, look for solutions when there are problems. We don’t find our solutions on the battlefield. We find it at the table,” she said.
The talks would resume after the Ramadan, and it would be fair to assume that the two annexes would be signed within the year, Ferrer said, stepping back from her statement on Sunday that a final peace agreement could be signed after Ramadan, which officially ends at the end of July.
The MILF vice chair for political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, said on Sunday that the MILF fighters would not disarm unless clear conditions and terms for their safety are met.
“There must also be an assurance the fighters will be free from harassment from troops once they are disarmed,” Jaafar said.
Ferrer on Monday acknowledged the difficulty of disarming for the MILF.
“It is something they cannot simply do [because] there are so many other armed groups in the area,” Ferrer said.
But “[a]s indicated in the framework agreement, the normalization process will be phased and gradual,” she said. “It will not happen in one instant. The goal is to finish it by 2016.”
Bishops for transparency
Catholic bishops in Mindanao welcomed Monday the wealth-sharing deal, but said they hoped both sides would exercise transparency in implementing the agreement and would honestly deliver basic services to the people of the ARMM.
“In the past, some regional governments were corrupt and both the Muslims and Christians in the ARMM suffered,” Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said.
Speaking on Church-run Radio Veritas, Jolo Bishop Angelito Lampon said a “legislative assembly” should be created to oversee the use of Bangsamoro income for services to the people of the region.
Lampon said the body should also determine which places in Bangsamoro should benefit from projects and how much should be spent for the projects.
Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said he hoped the deal would be implemented with transparency “for the true realization of Bangsamoro.”—With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy in Manila; Ryan Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP