Duterte signs bill for autonomous Muslim region in southern Philippines

Bangsamoro
with members of the Government of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panels during the turnover ceremony of the Bangsamoro Basic Law at the Malacañan Palace on July 17, 2017.

signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law to create a new autonomous Islamic in the Philippines.

“This is to announce that the president has just signed the BOL into law,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said today (Thursday, July 26).

The signing came eight days after the bicameral conference committee finalised the bill after days of fierce debate. The president had certified the bill as ‘urgent’, paving the way for a speedy passage through Congress.

The was the first to ratify the bicameral report on the measure, ahead of the president’s State of the Nation Address on Monday.

However, the House of Representatives was unable to ratify the measure due to a leadership showdown that saw former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo replacing Pantaleon Alvarez as House Speaker.

The House ratified the bicameral report on Tuesday before the measure was sent to Malacañang for the president’s signature.

The law replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which would have increased fiscal autonomy, a regional government, parliament and justice system.

The would take the same shape as the ARMM – namely Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur – pending a regional plebiscite. Six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays [villages] of Cotabato may also join subject to the approval of local government.

The chartered cities of Cotabato and Isabela are also due to hold a referendum on joining the new region.

The law has an opt-in provision, allowing neighbouring areas to join the Bangsamoro, following a petition calling for a referendum signed by at least 10 per cent of voters.

The law is the culmination of a peace deal signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and previous government administrations. 

Former president Benigno Aquino had wanted it passed before he stepped down, but anger following a botched police operation — widely known as the Maguindanao Massacre — in 2015 derailed its passage. 

The law also paves the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro government, headed by a chief minister and a ceremonial leader called a Wali.

There would also be a parliament composed of 80 members – 50 per cent party representatives, 40 per cent district representatives, and 10 per cent sectoral representatives, including two reserved seats for “non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities”.

Despite having its own government, the Bangsamoro would not have its own military or police force, as security would remain the responsibility of the national government.

Local tax revenues would be shared with three-quarters being retained within the region and one quarter going to national government.

An annual block grant, set at a five per cent share of the national internal revenue or nearly 60 billion pesos, would also be handed to the region.

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