The vital role of the Bangsamoro people in setting up their regional parliamentary government

By Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco
Non-Resident Research Fellow, Ateneo School of Government
July 23, 2020

The ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) established the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The creation of the BARMM also marks the end of decades of armed conflict between Muslim insurgents and the government. Understandably, the inauguration of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), tasked to govern the region during the 3-year transition period, was heralded as a “new dawn” for Mindanao.

The BTA in its first year of work has demonstrated the resolve to create a stable economic environment for the BARMM. Indeed, three items in their list of achievements for 2019 bodes particularly well for the economic prospects of the autonomous region.

The first one is the holding of the Bangsamoro Energy Forum which initiated efforts to develop sustainable energy sources in the region. Second, the holding of the Bangsamoro Tourism Stakeholders’ Summit which signified the importance of tourism in grassroots development in the region. And third, a high investment record for the BARMM which indicates growing business confidence for the region.

Ostensibly, the status of the BARMM as the poorest region in the country could dramatically change within the decade if the BTA continues laying down a strong foundation for the first elected Bangsamoro Parliament in 2022.

Pertinently, the BOL has assigned to the BTA a long list of responsibilities with the enactment of fundamental codes as arguably one of the more crucial mandates, but as of this writing none of these priority legislations have been enacted by the BTA.

More crucially however, as per the BOL the BTA is also tasked to manage the creation of a parliamentary form of government in the BARMM (See Article I, Section 3 and Article VII). This piece expounds on the vital role of the Bangsamoro people in this historic process.

 

The Bangsamoro Parliament

The Bangsamoro Parliament shall be composed of 80 members:

(a) Party Representatives shall make up half of the seats (40).

(b) Parliamentary District Seats shall comprise not more than forty percent (40%) of the seats.

(c) Reserved Seats and Sectoral Representatives shall constitute at least ten percent (10%) of the seats.

Hence, there are 3 ways to get elected to the Bangsamoro Parliament: 1) through a system of proportional representation; 2) in single member parliamentary districts; or, 3) as designated sectoral representatives.

The specific mechanics of these three paths to the Bangsamoro Parliament shall be established in a Bangsamoro Electoral Code, which as previously mentioned, has yet to be enacted by the BTA.

The Bangsamoro Parliament is quite peculiar because it does not mirror the form of government at the national level. By and large, other subnational governments in Southeast Asia are simply copies of their national governments. For instance, state governments in Malaysia are parliamentary in form like the federal government. But the Bangsamoro regional government is mandated by law to be parliamentary in form even though the Philippine national government is presidential.

Obviously, setting up a parliamentary government essentially from scratch brings different degrees of difficulty. But one complexity which can prove to be truly daunting for the BTA and the Bangsamoro people pertains to the central role of political parties in parliamentary elections and governance. Parties facilitate public political participation, and thus function as channels for citizens to influence their government. Indeed, the quality of political parties ultimately determines the quality of the parliament itself.

This particular facet of parliamentary systems deserves to be highlighted in the case of the BARMM because political parties in the Philippines are merely “coalitions of provincial bosses, political machines, and local clans, anchored on clientelistic, parochial, and personal inducements rather than on issues, ideologies, and party platforms”.

 

Fat Dynasties in the BARMM

Notably, the 2019 figures of the Ateneo Policy Center’s Political Dynasties Dataset indicate that the BARMM is dominated by “fat dynasties”.

The term “fat dynasty” refers to a family of politicians simultaneously holding public office. Multiple members of the clan all participate in elections at the same time, running for different posts.

The prevalence of fat political dynasties in the BARMM is an alarming red flag. Political parties in the region which will participate in the parliamentary elections in 2022 could be dominated by dynastic politicos. Which also means the Bangsamoro Parliament can potentially be filled with members inherently distinguished by “clientelistic, parochial, and personal inducements”.

Such a cohort controlling the first elected Bangsamoro Parliament in 2022 can certainly diminish the chances of the region fulfilling its economic growth aspirations.

So, how can this dire outcome be mitigated, or if possible, be completely avoided?

Admittedly, there is no silver bullet for this huge problem but the BOL has provided guidance via this mandate, “The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region shall have a democratic political system that allows its people to freely participate in the political processes within its territorial jurisdiction.” (Article IV, Section 3)

The phrase “people to freely participate in the political process” is an imprimatur for civils society organizations (CSOs) to play a prominent role in preparing the Bangsamoro people for the parliamentary elections in 2022.

 

The role of the Bangsamoro people

Based on my experience working with CSOs in the BARMM, I know they can contribute significantly in generating the foundational ethos of the new regional government. I make this assertion because they clearly possess the wherewithal to get communities in the BARMM deeply engaged in the formation process.

I have seen some of these CSOs in action demonstrating the technical expertise to conduct vibrant and inclusive public deliberations where participants with different views and concerns have a chance to be heard.

But what is unique about how these CSOs manage public forums is that even if no consensus is ever reached at the end, people still come out of the discussion with a better and more complete understanding of the subject matter deliberated upon.

People coming out of such public deliberations having an open mind is very important because it makes cooperation still possible. At the very least, it can keep the line of communication within a group of diverse views and interests connected. Thus, there will always be a potential for collection action.

Obviously, community organizing in the BARMM is not easy. There is still that very real problem of security. The Muslim insurgency may have ended but terrorism and violent extremism are still high-level threats that CSOs in the BARMM will have to deal with in their line of work.

Nonetheless, CSOs in the BARMM, as mobilizers of people, make perfect allies for reform-driven political parties or as outright political parties themselves. Either way they can contribute significantly in the creation of a Bangsamoro Parliament that is anchored on an actively engaged electorate and not totally under the control of political dynasties.

From my time working in the region, I believe there are currently at least 90 CSOs active in the BARMM with different advocacies and diverse constituencies. Most are doing grassroots work to help Bangsamoro communities during the transition period but quite a few are also gearing up for the 2022 parliamentary elections.

It is still too early to forecast how political dynasties in the BARMM will react to the entry of CSOs in parliamentary politics. Political alignments in the region will likely be drawn at the latter part of this year. But what is clear now is that the Bangsamoro people have a way to establish the kind of parliament that can still secure their economic aspirations.

 


REFERENCES

Anika Gauja, ‘Party Reform: The Causes, Challenges, and Consequences of Organizational Change’, Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016.

Caspar F. van den Berg, ‘Strategic Planning for Political Parties: A Practical Tool’, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

Juan L. Linz, ‘The Virtues of Parliamentarism’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 1, Number 4, Fall 1990, pp. 84-91.

Nic Cheeseman, Juan Pablo Luna, et al, ‘Politics Meets Policies: The Emergence of  Programmatic Political Parties’, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

Paul D. Hutchcroft (editor), ‘Strong Patronage, Weak Parties: The Case for Electoral System Redesign in the Philippines’, Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2019.

Peter Burnell, ‘Building Better Democracies: Why political parties matter’, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, December 2004.

‘A Framework for Democratic Party-Building’, The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy The Hague, 2004.

‘A Guide to Political Party Development’, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 2008.

‘Reforming the Philippine Political Party System: Ideas and Initiatives, Debates and Dynamics’, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), 2009.

Atienza vs. Comelec (G.R. No. 188920, February 16, 2010)


Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a senior fellow of Access Bangsamoro and a Non-Resident Research Fellow of the Ateneo School of Government. 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.