Zambo City solon ready to wage new fight vs Moro ‘superstate’
In the last Congress, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat had vigorously opposed the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Now he seems ready to wage the same battle.
On Wednesday, Lobregat raised fears that the BBL might create a “superstate” in Mindanao that would reap more rights and resources than other Philippine substates to be formed under pending federalism measures in Congress.
“This is probably why we need to tackle federalism first before ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), because if we tackle ARMM first before federalism, what will happen when they become a state?” he said.
“They will become a superstate,” said Lobregat, the most vocal critic of earlier versions of BBL in the previous Congress.
The Mindanao congressman made his sentiments known during Wednesday’s hearing of a subcommittee of the House constitutional amendments panel discussing models to federalize the Philippines.
He said one issue that might complicate the federalism measure was the case of ARMM, which would be replaced by a new self-governing body under the BBL.
Based on the draft submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Council to President Duterte, the BBL has been officially filed as a bill by House leaders. It is poised to undergo committee deliberations once referred in plenary.
Possible end to conflict
The measure will give flesh to peace agreements signed by the government and Moro rebels and is hoped to end decades of fighting in Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao.
The BBL was well on its way to passage at the House during the Aquino administration but was derailed in the fallout of the Mamasapano incident in January 2015, when 44 Special Action Force men were killed in clashes with insurgents.
On the other hand, the House constitutional amendments committee is deliberating on two federalism measures that seek to give greater autonomy and resources to new regional governments, including the envisioned Bangsamoro area.
Lobregat suggested that this might pose problems, particularly in revenue collection.
“ARMM was sort of created so there will be more autonomy, but what has happened? Even if you now have ARMM and the Bangsamoro, they cannot stand on their own. There are hardly any taxes collected in ARMM provinces,” he said.
“So what will happen? It will be now the federal government subsidizing ARMM as usual for the next how many years. Again. And if you look at the present BBL, what they’re asking now is 6 percent of total [tax] collections, not four. Before it was four, now it’s six,” Lobregat said.
He said a P100-billion development fund was to be set aside for the new Bangsamoro region besides a block grant.
But Jonathan Malaya, executive director of the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute, did not agree with Lobregat.
“First of all, there are signed peace agreements already with the various fronts, like those with MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front). You can’t set those aside,” he told the Inquirer.
Malaya said the BBL would fit perfectly within his group’s federal system model.
“We call that asymmetric. [The Bangsamoro region] won’t be the same [as the other regions],” he said.
“They have deep reasons for their struggle. It’s not simply about resource allocation or their culture. It’s about historical injustice as mentioned by the President. Those deep reasons have to be respected. For us, we can continue the BBL, however it happens,” he said.