Although no one likes to say it, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has not been successful after nearly 30 years and several legal adjustments.
There has been plenty of time to achieve peace and prosperity, which are the two practical measures for ARMM’s success. Unfortunately, calm failed to come to Mindanao for both Muslims and Christians, and those living in the ARMM saw their standard of living stagnate since the ARMM implementation.
Finger-pointing has been the game for decades, and no one wanted to bear the blame. But to the average citizens of the island and of Cotabato City, Zamboanga, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Marawi, the ARMM was not a dream fulfilled.
The efforts of the Aquino administration to make significant changes with the former version of the law, commonly known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), failed perhaps because it was not the right law at the right time. Perhaps the tragedy of the war in Marawi changed the climate of the discussion enough that we now have the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
The BBL was criticized on all sides for not going far enough and also going too far in giving the region more autonomy from the Philippine national government. The same discussion has surrounded the BOL. But this time, everyone knew that something had to be done. It was, of course, a compromise when no one gets everything that they want, but everyone gets what they can live with.
The differences between the ARMM law and the BOL include the provision that the new law grants 75-25 wealth sharing between the Bangsamoro and national governments—higher than the current 70-30 scheme under the ARMM law. This means 75 percent of the national internal revenue collection would go to the Bangsamoro, and 25 percent to the central government. However, that does not address the problem that the ARMM government has failed at generating enough revenue to pay its bills.
Therefore, an annual block grant of a 5-percent share of the national internal revenue, or some P59 billion, will also be automatically appropriated to the region without any condition. With the adoption of the BOL, there is an implicit agreement by the current ARMM government that these numbers make fiscal sense. We hope so.
The Bangsamoro will still not have its own military and police forces, as these will continue to be under the national government. The Bangsamoro government will have near absolute control of its economy, including the development of natural resources in the region. The Bangsamoro government must adhere to the provisions of the Philippine Constitution. The Bangsamoro government will have exclusive powers over some areas, including budgeting, administration of justice, agriculture, customary laws, creation of sources of revenue, disaster-risk reduction and management, economic zones, ancestral domain, grants and donations, human rights, local government units, public works, social services, tourism, and trade and industry.
Now it is up to the Bangsamoro people to step up, chart their own destiny, and make a success of their community and land. This time, the Philippines has a president from the island who perhaps knows and appreciates the Bangsamoro struggle better than those in the past.