Bangsamoro - the Opposite of Brexit?

By Lewis Hawke
Lead Governance Specialist
World Bank, Philippines
September 16, 2019

As the deadline for Britain’s exit from the EU approaches, it makes me think of how fortunate we are in the Philippines to be able to resolve citizens’ desire for greater autonomy and self-determination through an orderly process, underpinned by a detailed law, and goodwill amongst stakeholders.

Instead of proposing withdrawing from the union, like UK, the Bangsamoro people have voted to “remain” and pursue their goals as an integral part of the Philippines Republic. This does not necessarily make the decisions or the transition any easier. In fact, there are many challenges for the people and the parliament of Bangsamoro. I would like to focus on just a few, with emphasis on financial management.

The World Bank recently published a report on “Preparing for Effective and Robust Financial Management in the Bangsamoro Region”, (which is available free from the link in this article). The report identified three crucial and interconnected challenges that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) administration needs to meet if they are to be successful:

1. Keep delivering ‘business as usual’. The Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA) has responsibility for continuing to deliver services, providing transfers and generally managing the affairs of the region for its citizens. There was no pause button to wait for the new administration to get up to speed, it had to step in and take over while the ARMM engine was still running. This has required any changes in staffing, structures, operating and intergovernmental arrangements to be adopted with minimal impact on functions and services or risk slipping backwards. This appears to be happening through the ongoing commitment and professionalism of regional government staff as well as the cooperation of national government and others.

This seems to be in contrast with the Brexit arrangements where the EU, British government and people on both sides of the English Channel do not know what will happen or how it will affect the participants.

2. Set up key BARMM institutions to provide the core machinery of government, so that it runs smoothly, transparently and efficiently. The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) mentions at least 19 institutions or agencies that need to be established in the first 6 months after commencement. A further 21 major laws and 10 additional institutions have to be enacted within 12 months of the end of transition to the first elected BARMM government. These will require wide consultation and often involvement by other levels of government, for example in establishing the many intergovernmental institutions. They will also require careful planning to ensure that the institutions are up and running when they are needed for facilitating intergovernmental financial management, infrastructure development, energy management and joint cooperation zones.

Cooperation between national government agencies and BARMM is a two-way street: the national government agencies need to recognize their responsibility to cooperate and support access to national programs and projects, along with capable and effective BARMM institutions and systems. Effective cooperation with LGUs will also be essential to ensure seamless complementary, efficient services for BARMM citizens through all tiers of government.

Central to the financial heart of BARMM will be the regional budget, finance, planning and local government relations bodies. It is encouraging to see that those were among the first bodies to be set up within BARMM. It is also encouraging to see the support and advice provided by the regional office of DBM in preparing the BARMM budget process.
Unlike Brexit, which is progressing without any clear rules and procedures, BARMM has a very explicit blueprint developed through extensive negotiation, planning and preparation to develop and implement the BOL.

3. Careful change management. In addition to the terms of the BOL, and the preparations needed to manage a substantial increase in resources, BARMM needs to realize its goals for autonomy. This will involve many changes in what is done and the way it is done in the region. It will involve greater participation in government by citizens and greater control over their own destinies. In common with the French National Convention of 1793, it can be said that “with greater power comes greater responsibility”.

Amongst all of the changes that need to be made, it will be important to not to change things unnecessarily. Where existing institutions, procedures, practices and systems are fit for purpose, they should be retained. Change for the sake of change only increases risk and absorbs energy and resources that could be better used by focusing on what is important and necessary. Where change or increased capacity is needed, it should come from within or from existing sources where possible.

This involves national and local government as well. Where national and local authorities can work with the new regional administration and neither step back and wait for things to happen, nor intervene in ways that make transition more difficult, everyone will be better served.

In the progression of Brexit we see the polarization of people with different perspectives exacerbating the tension and challenges for those affected. In Bangsamoro, the goodwill on all sides, cemented by cooperation and effort to understand what is needed, can create a virtuous cycle to strengthen and facilitate positive change in the short and long term.

The World Bank report includes many observations on how things can be improved from circumstances existing under the ARMM, not just in the regional administration, but in the region broadly defined. This includes better integration of different levels of government, improvement in processes, systems and controls, and more transparent and accountable institutions. There are many positive foundations as well, and these provide a firm basis for transition and achievement of regional goals and aspirations.
We may yet see positive outcomes from the Brexit initiative for more British autonomy, but in the meantime, the Europeans, including Britain, could learn some important lessons about how to achieve greater autonomy from the Philippines.


World Bank (2019), Preparing for effective and robust financial management in the Bangsamoro region, Report number 140534.

Lewis Hawke is a Lead Governance Specialist of World Bank, Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Access Bangsamoro, its proponents, or affiliates.