Panel: 75-25 share deal justified

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - A wealth-sharing deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is advantageous to the country and “will stand the test of legality and constitutionality,” the chief of the government panel negotiating peace with Muslim rebels said yesterday.

In a press briefing at Malacañang, chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said a wealth-sharing scheme approved on Saturday was justified as it would make the envisioned Bangsamoro entity self-sustaining and progressive.

The Bangsamoro is also entitled to automatic appropriation from the central government.

Based on the agreement, the Bangsamoro entity gets 75 percent share in taxes and revenues from natural resources and metallic minerals and 50 percent from energy and other mineral resources.

Ferrer said that of all the provisions in the wealth-sharing annex, “the jewel in the crown” was the provision entitling Bangsamoro to automatic appropriation and regular release of budget.

The allocation will be in the form of an annual “block grant” from the central government similar to the internal revenue allotment (IRA) received by local government units.

“The formula for the automatic appropriation of block grant will be provided in the basic law. Many of us have not focused on this detail because much of the reporting on media have concentrated on the sharing arrangements with regard to natural resources but, as I said, this is the jewel in the crown,” Ferrer said.

At the same time, Ferrer said the agreement provided that revenues collected by the Bangsamoro from additional taxes and their share in government income from natural resources would be deducted from the annual block grants on the fourth year of the operation of the regular Bangsamoro government.

“This provision came from the MILF. It indicated that behind the haggling for more share is the intent to be less and less dependent on the national government,” Ferrer said.

“It indicated that the intention is not to get the ‘lion’s share’ for its own sake but to be able, in the future, to stand tall as a progressive and peaceful region; an equal partner of the central government in an equally peaceful and progressive country,” she said.

“This, indeed, is the true meaning of partnership – a partnership that is not based on dependency and patronage, but on the strength and capacities introduced by both for the benefit of the whole,” she added.

Ferrer said this was a unique provision because there would be automatic appropriation that would spare the region from the constraints of central budgeting process.

“I would like to say that this is a structural difference. This is not just an add-on in terms of additional percentage or whatever but this, basically, redefines the whole structure with regard to the financing of the Bangsamoro government,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said a financially dependent Bangsamoro “does not speak well for autonomy,” citing as an example the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which has to rely heavily on national government funds to function effectively.

She said it was logical to give the Bangsamoro government more budget since more functions would be devolved to the new political entity compared to what was being exercised by the ARMM.

“So, I think, that is quite clear. All of these will be considered when the formula is decided on in the basic law,” Ferrer said.

Rehab funds

Ferrer also said that under the section on fund transfers from the central government, they agreed that a Special Development Fund would be provided to the Bangsamoro for rehabilitation and development purposes upon the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

She said the Special Development Fund would take into account the need by ARMM provinces joining the Bangsamoro to have a “jumpstart mechanism” so they would be able to catch up with the rest of the country.

Ferrer said the signing of the second annex was undeniably a breakthrough and they were expecting the discussions on the power-sharing and normalization annexes to be just as intense.

“But, when you’re halfway through, there is no reason to turn back. The only way to go is forward,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer also said that critics should have a better appreciation of the total package.

“We have always reminded ourselves, as we were doing the talks, that let’s not forget the forest because we are focusing on a few trees. But let’s not forget the big picture even as we talk about the smallest details that we can put in the annex,” Ferrer said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said that as with the framework agreement, all of the annexes would be completed under close guidance of President Aquino.

Deles said they were always mindful of the President’s instructions from the very start that “we should learn our lessons from the past, that everything that is signed will be delivered.”

While negotiations had been intense, Deles said that what’s important was that “we go to the table, we talk about it; we, together, look for solutions when there are problems.”

“We don’t find our solutions in the battlefield. We find it on the table,” she said.

The wealth-sharing annex has sections on taxation, other sources of revenue, fees and charges, grants and donations, fund transfers from central government, contracting of loans and overseas development assistance, natural resources, and additional fiscal powers, among others.

Accelerate dev’t

For MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, the approved revenue sharing deal would accelerate the rebuilding of Bangsamoro, which is “50 years behind” in progress compared to other regions in Mindanao.

He called it an “overwhelming wisdom” for the MILF to bat for more than a half share in the revenues from oil, natural gas or coal extracted in the region.

“It was the central Manila government that controlled the utilization of all of the natural resources in the Moro homeland for so long. It’s time for the Moro people to enjoy the natural bounties of their land,” Jaafar said.

Jaafar said that historical records showed that Mindanao’s Moro people already had political and economic dealings with neighboring territories and kingdoms like Thailand and China even before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521.

The Sulu Sea, including the country’s territorial waters bordering Malaysia, is believed to have vast deposits of oil.

The 220,000-hectare Liguasan Delta in Central Mindanao near the borders of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces, is also believed to have the largest deposit of natural gas in Asia.

Water from Lake Lanao in Lanao del Sur propels several hydroelectric plants that supply three-fourths of Mindanao’s daily power requirements.

“There are so much rebuilding, capital-intensive rebuilding processes that have to be done in the Moro homeland once there is a binding, durable peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF,” Jaafar said.

He said poverty and underdevelopment in Muslim areas would not have been prevalent had the government early on in the 1970s recognized Moro patrimony over their ancestral lands.

“If we look around, Moro people are no better than beggars. They die as paupers and are buried in lands that have natural wealth below, that belong to them, historically and by all moral ascendancy,” Jaafar said.

Support vowed

Officials in Mindanao have vowed support for the approved wealth-sharing deal between the government and the MILF.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, whose province is the main bastion of the MILF, said his office along with the inter-agency provincial peace and order council recognizes and supports the wealth-sharing deal signed by Ferrer and her MILF counterpart, Muhaquer Iqbal.

“We in Maguindanao want a peaceful resolution of this decades-old ‘Moro problem’ not just because we belong to the Moro community, but because we want lasting peace in Mindanao to reign via peaceful means, through consensus-building,“ Mangudadatu said.

Mangudadatu said he would instruct his 36 constituent-mayors to reproduce copies of the deal for distribution to barangay officials to help in the dissemination of agreement’s salient points.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman and regional Local Government Secretary Anwar Malang also voiced support for the deal.

Malang said the ARMM’s Department of the Interior and Local Government is ready to help educate the public on the intricacies of the wealth-sharing package.

Mangudadatu said the recent breakthroughs in the peace talks between the government and the MILF have also been helping improve the investment climate in the province.

He said there are reports of local traders expanding their businesses lately, convinced of the improving security situation in Maguindanao, as a result of the peace process.

The ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments also confirmed expansions in foreign ventures such as the Cavendish banana plantations in the second district of the province. With John Unson, Evelyn Macairan













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