Projecting New Elections in the Bangsamoro: Heritages and Issues

By Hansley Juliano, M.A.
Instructor, Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University
28 May 2020

One significant innovation in Philippine institutional design created by the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) would be the enactment of a regional parliamentary structure—a form of government which skews closer to the empowerment of legislative institutions over executive and judicial ones. Classical arguments in favor of parliamentary forms of government tend to extol the fact that a) it is adopted widespread by most governments, and b) that the fusion of executive and legislative powers can create stronger and stable governments.1

At the same time, parliamentary governments have also been observed to either create “over-mighty” heads of government, as well become subject to unstable coalitional regimes. In particular, scholars like  Scott Mainwaring and Matthew Shugart have warned that “in the short term switching to parliamentary government without effecting parallel changes to encourage greater party discipline could prove problematic”.2 As is borne out of the contentious history of introducing parliamentarism to the Philippines, its adoption tends to be coloured by the political intentions of the proponents of such—especially when they are identified with long-standing elite interests. Thus, the potential political ramifications in an (as of yet) not wholly reformed BARMM, however, remain very salient.

Lingering Challenges

While the creation of a new form of government is usually hoped to engender new forms of political behavior and citizenship, it must be reiterated that this does not happen overnight. Hence, the centrality of addressing long-standing social and institutional roadblocks in BARMM cannot be understated. As discussed by John Sidel through the “bossist” framework of Philippine politics, “the decisive role of state structures on the one hand and coercive forms of control over local populations on the other… facilitat[es] the emergence and  entrenchment of local strongmen”.3 Informal and institutionalized alliances between local families within the traditional Bangsamoro domains and the national government have guaranteed their continuing dominion over regional politics.

As was exhibited in the case of former governor Mohamad Ali Dimaporo of Lanao del Sur (whose heirs continue to control Lanao del Norte to this day)4, Malacañang’s favouring of certain local elites guarantee “reliable intermediaries who can deliver votes in national elections in exchange for local or regional autonomy and maintain local order.”5 These dynamics, however, do guarantee what has characterized electoral contention in the Philippines: “a protracted experience of formal elections that has provided some political legitimacy for elites at the cost of heightening elite rivalries, reducing the cycle for development planning, and breaching any insulation that might allow government to impose some market discipline upon elite corporations.”6

Contemporary reportage suggests that not much has changed in this situation despite attempts at regional governance reform in the Bangsamoro. Under the old ARMM, political families have struck deals with incumbent national coalitions to deliver votes during elections in exchange for largesse and  other forms  of protection—the most notorious being the Ampatuans of Maguindanao (under former governor Andal’s alliance with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo).7

Even under the presidencies of Benigno Aquino III and Rodrigo Duterte, the belief that “no Autonomous Region governor ‘got the job before [getting] the president’s blessing’” seems to have persisted. Local political families within the Bangsamoro also remain entrenched under the Duterte government, with four out of the five component provinces being among the top 20 “fat dynasties”8. One silver lining which should be highlighted, however, would be the significant decrease in conflict deaths (i.e. conflicts caused by violence and war conditions), despite a) the aftermath of the war in Marawi and b) the persistence of political and identity-based violence.9 Significant differences between the Maranao majority and the other indigenous peoples (IPs/”lumads”) within the region have also been noted.10 The significant level of socio-economic inequality between them (plus competing attitudes in using the region’s natural resources and environmental protection)11 is likely to intensify potential tensions which may manifest in the upcoming electoral contest.

What Will Pre-Election Preparation Entail?

The fact that elections in the Bangsamoro will happen as part of the 2022 National and Local Elections does spell a host of concerns for the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). This is further highlighted considering the 2022 NLE determines succession from the contentious presidency of Duterte (who is from Mindanao and have enjoyed significant support from them). While COMELEC will most likely be swamped by nationwide preparations and logistical concerns as is usual, we cannot overstate the necessity of employing significant preparation and groundwork to guarantee clean and peaceful elections, especially in the following areas:

    1. Political Education and Community Empowerment. The significant political inequality in the region between the entrenched political families and the general population has usually guaranteed non-competitive election results in the region’s provinces—with most victors gaining near-100% of the vote proportion, an anomaly in competitive elections.12 While this could be easily attributed to the first-past-the-post, single-office electoral races of the old ARMM structure, these political behaviors cannot be easily unlearned even in a nominally more-accommodating structure such as a regional parliament. Political education (conducted either primarily by COMELEC or in partnership with stakeholders and interested civil society institutions) should therefore include/entail a thorough promotion of the parliamentary electoral structure, what is expected of the candidates and their duties, as well as educating the Bangsamoro public of their expected opportunities for exacting accountability and reciprocity from their candidates. Such education programs should also be extended to security forces within the region, in order to disabuse them of previous prejudices regarding political organizing, while at the same time making them sensitive and aware of incoming genuine threats to the electoral exercise.
    2. Policing of Election-Related Violations (ERVs). If previous elections could be seen as a barometer, it could be expected that election-related violations will occur in areas with significant competitive interests/at-conflict political families. While this description does cover all provinces of the Bangsamoro, it does highlight the necessity of ensuring a larger number of eyes (metaphorically and literally) watching the election proceedings.  Enlisting the assistance of election/voter reform-oriented civil society organizations (CSOs) and religious groups in the area have been proven to galvanize popular support and accountability. At the same time, there is a need to be sensitive to religious differences which may colour such public engagements (especially since even Christian, Moro and IP/Lumad communities are further differentiated by their sects of choice).
    3. Post-Election Consensus-Building. Post-elections, we must also continue to manage a) the contentious possibilities of upcoming inter-parliamentary politics, and b)  the still-precarious nature of the post-peace process Bangsamoro, which faces the following challenges:
      • “the dilemma that the more inclusive the peace process becomes, the more difficult it will be to reach a consensus”;
      • “how to integrate Islamic groups that reject the autonomous region and resort to armed struggle”; and
      • “the coexistence model based on an institutionally and ideally categorized population, which is in conflict with everyday cohabitation”.13

Continued participation of community, civil society and ecumenical religious structures should be encouraged and protected by regional and national government institutions. Maintaining the lessons of the previous peace process structures in order to enforce truces between competing political families and belligerents who would oppose the post-election consensus are also paramount. Ultimately, the post-election consensus should always consider the promotion of inclusive and  equitable development as paramount. Correcting the long-standing social inequities within the region, as has been argued in the past, is the best guarantee for long-term stability and peace.



1See, for example, Ken Newton and Jan W. Van Deth. Foundations of Comparative Politics: Democracies of the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 68; and Juan J. Linz, “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does It Make a Difference?,” in Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela, eds., The Crisis of Presidential Democracy: The Latin American Evidence (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 69.

2Scott Mainwaring and Matthew S. Shugart, “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal,” Comparative Politics, 29(4), 1997:  468. The argument is also reflected in Newton and Van Deth 2005.

3John T.  Sidel, Capital, Coercion and Bossism in the Philippines (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 4.

4See G. Carter Bentley, “Mohamad Ali Dimaporo: A Modern Maranao Datu,” in Alfred W. McCoy, ed., An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines  (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 243-284.

5International Crisis Group, Southern Philippines: Tackling Clan Politics in the Bangsamoro, Asia Report No. 306, 14 April 2020, 7.

6Alfred W. McCoy, ed., An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines  (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), xiii.

7Paul D. Hutchcroft, “The Arroyo Imbroglio in the Philippines,” Journal of Democracy 19(1), 2008, 150.

8Ronald Mendoza, Leonardo Jaminola and Jurel Yap, “From Fat to Obese: Political Dynasties after the 2019 Midterm Elections”, ASOG Working Paper 19-013 (Quezon City: Ateneo School of Government, 2019), 9.

9 Liezl PG. Bugtay, Nikki Philline C. de la Rosa and Judy T. Gulane, War Makes States: Conflict Alert 2019 (International Alert 2019), 17-18.

10See a) Federico V. Magdalena, “Managing the Muslim Minority in the Philippines,” Dirasat 29, November  2017; and b) Asian Development Bank, “Output 4: Restoring Livelihoods and Learning in Marawi”, Republic of the Philippines: Emergency Assistance for the Reconstruction and Recovery of Marawi, September 2018.

11Federico V. Magdalena, “Globalization and Environmental Decay: Mindanao During the 20th Century,” Progressio: Journal on Human Development 10(1), 2016, 1-14.

12 Christian Chan Shio, Felix Muga II and Hansley A, Juliano. “A Postmortem of the 2016 Philippine Elections: Trends and Implications.” Paper Presented at 2019 Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA) Intl. Conference, 28 May 2019, Quest Hotel & Conference Center, Clark, Pampanga.

13Asuna Yoshizawa and Wataru Kusaka, ”The Arts of Everyday Peacebuilding: Cohabitation, Conversion, and Intermarriage of Muslims and Christians in the Southern Philippines,” Southeast Asian Studies 9(1), April 2020, 95.

Postscript: The author would like to acknowledge the assistance and insights given by Mr. Mark Davis Pablo (Planning Officer III, Philippine Public Safety College), Mr. Erick Javier (Defense Analyst, Armed Forces of the Philippines) and Mr. Santiago Castillo (Researcher-Analyst, National Security Council, GPH) in the preparation of this piece.

Mr. Hansley Juliano, M.A.  serves as Instructor at the Department of Political Science, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University. Communication is welcome at 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.