Is BBL 1.1 of Federalism? Dynamics and Links of BBL and Federalism

Speaker Gil Montilla Conference Hall

South Wing Annex, House of Representatives

26 September 2017


In his Opening Remarks, Dr. Romulo E.M. Miral Jr., Director General of the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department, highlighted the importance of exchanging information on two major and intertwined reforms under the Duterte administration—the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the shift from a unitary to a federal system of government.

Atty. Benedicto Bacani, Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), pointed out in his introduction that the current Duterte administration’s openness to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution to pave the way for a federal form of government offers new opportunities to address the Bangsamoro problem. He posed the following key questions to guide the enactment of the BBL under the current administration:

1)    What and how to enact the BBL under the existing policy environment?

 2)    What BBL should be passed when the prospect of the shift to a federal system is in the horizon?

 3)    How to reconcile frameworks, structures and timelines on the BBL and federalism?

 4)    If Mindanao peace is the primordial interest, how do we make BBL and federalism relevant and effective tools for fostering sustainable peace and development?


Key Issues and Concerns      

A key issue discussed during the forum is the weak autonomy to govern the Bangsamoro’s own affairs under the current legal framework. Muslim rebel groups originally wanted independence from the Philippines. However, under their peace agreements with the government, they exchanged their quest for independence with more autonomy to govern their own affairs. The Bangsamoro’s unmet desire for genuine autonomy is rooted in their aspiration for sovereignty, and this needs to be addressed in designing the BBL and the Philippine federal setup.

Atty. Mike Yusingco, a policy consultant, and a lecturer of the University of Asia and the Pacific, explained that the secular model adopted by the Philippine Constitution weakens Bangsamoro autonomy. The secular model, founded upon the separation of Church and State, does not allow the Bangsamoro to design governance systems based on Islamic tenets.

Atty. Ishak Mastura, Chairman of the Regional Board of Investments of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said that the faulty assignment of governmental powers weakens Bangsamoro autonomy. For instance, he said the Regional Government (RG) in the ARMM can only impose taxes on top of those already imposed by the national government (NG) and local government units (LGUs).

Congressman Makmod Mending Jr. (Party-List, AMIN) pointed out that while NG personnel were devolved to the ARMM, the program funds for these devolved NG offices were not given to the ARMM. The ARMM’s dependence on NG’s program funds enables the central government to exercise substantial control over the autonomous region.  

Some participants expressed concerns on BBL and federalism. Representative Aurora Cerilles (2nd District, Zamboanga del Sur) asked whether the block grant to the Bangsamoro as provided in the draft BBL is fair to other LGUs in the country. She also said that because LGUs in the country remain dependent on the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) provided by the National Government, they will have a hard time under a federal setup. In his response, Atty. Yusingco emphasized the need for the federal Constitution to address the issue of fiscal support for regions and LGUs, especially those that have weak financial capacity.  

Congressman Isagani Amatong (3rd District, Zamboanga del Norte) stressed the importance of proper diagnosis of what ails the current ARMM before passing the BBL. If lack of funds for LGUs is the main problem, according to him, the solution is to give LGUs a bigger share of national revenues instead of creating an additional tier of government under federalism. Like Congresswoman Cerilles, he suggested that focus be given to strengthening LGUs whose functionaries are closer to their constituencies.


Policy Options      

Atty. Bacani underscored the need to reconcile the frameworks and timelines for BBL, Charter Change, and federalism as he pointed out their importance as tools for peacebuilding.

Three key options related to BBL were discussed during the forum.

One of the options is to pass a BBL subject to the conditions and limitations under the 1987 Philippine Constitution. This option views the BBL as a reform separate from federalism. It calls for the passage of the BBL prior to the ratification of the federal Constitution, to protect the concessions given to the Bangsamoro people under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). This option, however, involves a difficult choice of passing a watered-down BBL which is not consistent with the CAB but which addresses issues pertaining to BBL’s constitutionality. One disadvantage of this option, according to Atty. Ishak Mastura, Chairman of the Regional Board of Investments of the ARMM, is that a watered-down BBL may not be acceptable to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other Bangsamoro stakeholders.

Another option is to enact a BBL in the context of Charter Change and federalism reforms. One version of this option mentioned by Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas involves the passage of the BBL under the current Constitution, with Congress convening itself later on as a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution to address questions pertaining to the constitutionality of the CAB-compliant BBL. This option considers the fact that there are many things an autonomous region cannot do because of constitutional constraints.

Another variant of this option suggested by Atty. Bacani is to pass a watered-down BBL under the current constitutional framework and then to recalibrate it later with the provisions of the eventual federal Constitution. Alternatively, a BBL version may be passed that already considers the features of the envisioned federal form of government. Regardless of the content and timing of passage of the BBL, Atty. Bacani said that there is a need to address the Bangsamoro's aspiration for self-determination through governance systems that consider their own culture, history, and beliefs.

Three critical concerns were raised in a scenario where BBL and federalism are pursued in tandem. Firstly, there is a prospect that the Bangsamoro will lose the concessions given under the CAB if BBL is not passed prior to the ratification of the federal Constitution. This is because under a federal setup, the Bangsamoro region has to contend with other regions in terms of their share in national resources. Secondly, there is uncertainty as to how the federal Constitution will address the Bangsamoro problem which is already addressed by the CAB. Atty. Bacani lamented that the current federalism discourse treats the Bangsamoro problem more as a question of equitable distribution of resources than one of Bangsamoro self-determination. Thirdly, there is the issue of Bangsamoro participation in Charter Change and federalism reform initiatives. Atty. Bacani underscored the importance of an inclusive structure that will facilitate intra-Moro dialogue on issues that need to be addressed by Charter Change and federalism reforms. Atty. Yusingco called for a leading role by the Bangsamoro in the Charter Change process in line with Executive Order No. 8 which mandates the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to recommend to Congress proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution. 


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9:00 AM - 9:15 AM Registration
9:15 AM - 9:20 AM National Anthem / Invocation
9:20 AM - 9:30 AM

Opening Remarks

Dr. Romulo E.M. Miral, Jr.

Director General

Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department

9:30 - 9:45



Executive Director

Institute for Autonomy and Governance

9:45 AM - 10:25 AM



Member, Bangsamoro Transition Commission

“Main Features of the BTC-Proposed BBL and the BTC Position on Federalism”

10:25 AM - 11:05 AM


MNLF Legal Counsel

“Federalism and Implementation of Peace Agreements”

11:05 AM - 11:45 AM OPEN FORUM
11:45 AM - 12:15 PM LUNCH
12:15 PM - 12:55 PM


Bangsamoro Study Group


“How BBL and Federalism Can Serve the Cause for Mindanao Peace”

12:55 PM - 1:35 PM


Legislative Policy Consultant/Lecturer

University of Asia & the Pacific


“Issues on Charter Change”

1:35 PM - 2:00 PM OPEN FORUM
2:00 PM - 2:10 PM


Executive Director, Institute for Autonomy and Governance

 “Synthesis and Moving Forward”

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