Bicam makes release of funds easier for Bangsamoro

MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers in the bicameral conference committee agreed to make the budget release process less stringent under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

After the lawmakers met for about 13 hours on Monday, July 9, Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri said the bicam removed provisions requiring the Bangsamoro to specify its plans and programs first before the national government releases the region's annual block grant or share of the national internal revenue.

Zubiri explained that removing the pre-budget release requirement would protect the Bangsamoro region from a scenario where it would have no funds for social welfare and development activities.

"Previously, there was a reportorial requirement. You have to report the plans and programs first to this intergovernmental body, financial, fiscal body before the release can actually be made. Eh what if hindi nila gusto 'yung report, 'di nila gusto 'yung submission? 'Di nila mare-release 'yung block grant? (But what if they wouldn't like the report or the submission? They wouldn't release the block grant?)" said Zubiri. 

"Eh walang suweldo 'yung mga tao do'n! Walang developmental funds, walang funds for social welfare, for health, for economic activity of the Bangsamoro development activities. So 'di kami pumayag do'n," added the bicam chairperson.  

(That would mean the people there would have no salaries! There would be no funds for development, social welfare, health, and economic activity in the Bangsamoro. So we didn't agree with that.)

The block grant, pegged at 5% or about P59 billion, will be automatically appropriated to the Bangsamoro government as reflected in the General Appropriations Act or national budget.

Zubiri, however, clarified that transparency and accountability measures are still in place to ensure the proper spending of the Bangsamoro budget. 

He said the Bangsamoro government would still be required to submit the necessary documents for proper scrutiny by the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of Finance, and the Commission on Audit, among others.

Earlier on Monday, bicam members removed the anti-dynasty provision in the proposed BBL and agreed to a 75-25 wealth-sharing term for the Bangsamoro and the central government. 

For Tuesday, July 10, Zubiri said the bicam will separate into several small working groups at 9 am to tackle specific contentious provisions of the bill.

At 11 am, the small groups will present their proposals to the main bicam body for approval.

The controversial BBL provisions to be tackled by the small groups include the sharing of powers by the Bangsamoro government and the central government, the territorial jurisdiction over in-land bodies of water and areas of joint cooperation in the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, and the opt-in provisions for 6 towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 villages in North Cotabato

The bicam had postponed tackling the more contentious provisions of the draft BBL on Monday to make way for discussions on less controversial parts of the measure. 

Zubiri said they are hoping to come up with a new draft of the proposed BBL by Tuesday evening. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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