Senate starts debates on Bangsamoro law

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The debates over the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) kicked off yesterday at the Senate with Sen. Pia Cayetano asking questions on the multibillion block grant to be received by the new autonomous region.

“Can I ask the author on what this figure is like in the past years?” Cayetano asked on the issue of the block grant intended for the BAR.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who filed the BLBAR as a substitute to the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), said the figure has been pegged at around P32 billion to P36 billion, equivalent to four percent of the national internal revenue income.

“The block grant is an entirely new feature in Philippine governance,” Marcos said, adding it is not provided in other local government units.

The argument is made that it is akin to the internal revenue allotment (IRA) of local governments, Marcos explained. 

In defending the new Bangsamoro bill, Marcos noted that the block grants would be appropriated by the Bangsamoro government. From the original draft, Marcos noted that there is no mention of how the allocation will implemented.

Marcos described how shortsighted the government could be if it “cuts out a check for the block grant.”

“I go back to the system in local governments where after the personnel services’ requirements, the LGUs are required to account 20 percent of their IRA to the Social Development Fund,” Marcos said.

The senator said he is starting to put out a formula to make it clearer on how the block grant will be utilized.

Cayetano expressed hope that “the budget really trickles down and gets to the needy.”

In response, Marcos noted that there were other safeguards put in the BLBAR beyond the powers of the block grant.

Marcos explained that the appropriations under the BAR would fall under the auditing processes of the Commission on Audit. 

Under his proposal, the senator said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) would also have a review function in an attempt to make it akin to what happens to local governments.

Cayetano also noted the sources of revenues of the BAR will also come from official development assistance (ODAs) and loans.

On cue from Sen. Ralph Recto, Cayetano noted that ODAs and certain loans might need approval of the national government or concurrence of the monetary board.

If the loan requires sovereign guarantee, the national government should cover it, the senator added.

“Again I go back to the lessons learned, checks and balances,” Cayetano said.

Marcos said the funding is a moving target as the development is carried out. “It’s not a simple matter,” Marcos added.

Senate President Franklin Drilon explained that “realistically” a loan cannot be approved without sovereign guarantee after Marcos pointed out that there is always an “implicit” guarantee in many loans because it affects the financial situation of the country.

“We do not want our own financial situation to deteriorate,” Marcos said.

Cayetano also cited a provision under the new basic law for BAR which says that the annual block grant should be automatically appropriated and be reflected in the General Appropriations Act (GAA). “This is basically a main function of Congress, to relinquish this at this point… I still most likely oppose automatic appropriation,” she said.

Marcos welcomed Cayetano’s proposal to amend the provision.

“Again, we run into the principle of autonomy. As we heard in the hearings… one of the most important elements of that autonomy is the so-called fiscal autonomy. The characterization made in our discussion is how can you say we are autonomous when we come begging to Congress every year to get our budget,” Marcos said.

Cayetano reiterated that the “huge block grant” is a concern and that there should be certain degrees of accountability.

President Aquino expressed certainty yesterday that despite the consistent lack of quorum among members of the House of Representatives, a majority of the legislators will definitely show up once voting on the BBL takes place.

The Chief Executive is of the firm belief that being lawmakers, the congressmen will not shirk in their mandate to pass significant laws, particularly BBL, which will bring about lasting peace in war-torn Mindanao, home to a Muslim minority.

The House leadership has been having quorum problems right after Aquino’s July 27 State fof the Nation Address.  – With Delon Porcalla, Alexis Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Perseus Echeminada


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