By Ali G. Macabalang
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) has further devolved assets and function of its attached agencies to the autonomous government’s Transportation and Communications Ministry on the 7th year anniversary signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB),
DoTC Secretary Arthur Tugade signed the enabling Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) in Metro Manila, with Minister Dickson Hermoso of Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MoTC) countersigning it simultaneously in rites at the vicinity of the executive building here of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) on March 27.
The event marked the signing on March 27, 2014 of the CAB, the second major peace forged by the government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that served as main basis of R.A. 11054 (Bangsamoro Organic Law or BOL) enacted in July 2018 to form BARMM in place of the 29-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
In his message via zoom, Sec. Tugade said Saturday’s event was equally “historic” for him because it was the DoTC that began the BOL-prescribed devolution process by transferring the multi-million edifice of the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to the MoTC in September 2019.
Tugade assured the BARMM officialdom that DoTC – a revenue generating department – will “remain united with you in fostering a meaningful exercise of autonomous power for the betterment of the Bangsamoro region and its people.”
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim also addressed the event via zoom to respond Tugade’s words, saying his regime will reciprocate the gesture of trust by sustaining or enhancing the devolved BoTC entities works in the context of “moral governance” the MILF envisioned for its interim stewardship of the autonomous region.
It may be recalled that DoTC was one of national agencies devolved to the ARMM, but the devolution was oblique – unlike in the BARMM process – and caused legal dispute between the item-holder director and all appointed regional secretaries until the 39-year old region was abolished in 2019.
The unresolved internal legal dispute vanished with the abolition of ARMM, according to Minister Hermosa, who now serves as sole authority in the over-all concerns and operations of the MoTC-BARMM.
Smoother, clearer evolution process
National agencies cited in the BOL to devolve assets and powers to the BARMM bureaucracy are expected to cause smoother and clearer turnovers through consultative deliberations of the Inter-Governmental Relations Body (IGRB), said Executive Director Abdulraof Macacua in a message made for him by Deputy Executive Secretary Dong Cusain.
In the ARMM experience, under the 1996 government peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), hitches in devolution processes were blamed to the agency-to- agency power transfer scheme. Such odds as proven in the defunct DoTC-ARMM are avoided in the IGRB, being the single body to cause full devolution, Macacua said.
Meaningful essence of events
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF vice chair and BARMM education minister, attended Saturday’s event and called it a milestone in the evolution of autonomy, notably in the IGRB works. He co-chairs the IGRB for BARMM, with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez as counterpart from the national government.
Iqbal said he was not in Saturday’s list of guest and host officials. But he said in his speech that he “volunteered” to bat in to honor both the reckoning of the CAB signing and the devolution processes, in which he has been involved mainly.
He signed as MILF peace panel chair in 2014 the CAB and the Framework of Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2013. The FAB was the first major MILF-GPH peace deal that entailed “painstaking years” of talks. He admitted to the Philippine New Today news having “shed tears” during the signing of FAB.
50 percent devolution feat
In his assessment of various national agencies that have devolved power and assets to BARMM so far, Iqbal said the trend indicated some 50 percent or “halfway” as he termed it.
Among the agencies already devolved to BARMM, though some partially, are DoTC, the Departments of Education, Interior and Local Government, Labor, Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, Environment and Natural Resources, Science and Technology, and Social Welfare and Development, among others, it was learned.
The devolution process forms part of the political track provided in the CAB and BOL, meant to build the bureaucratic structures of the new autonomous region. Internally, it requires the passage by the parliament of enabling ordinances called education, administrative, local government, civil services, revenue and electoral codes, among others.
The other CAB and BOL-stipulated thrust is called normalization track, which requires the decommissioning of MILF’s 40,000 combatant-members alongside their firearms and their transformation to peaceful and productive civilian life, with state-mandated socio-economic assistance packages.
According to BARMM and national officials, the normalization track has so far seen only some 13,000 of the MILF’s total member-combatants, with the supposed continuing process being stunted by the advent of COVID-19 pandemic that drew national focal attention and heavy resources.
Need for BTA term extension
The social movement restrictions, not to mention the national fund and focal attention shift, has equally stunted the operations of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim governing body of BARMM, particularly in focus on in meeting the three-year timeline ending in 2022 for it to enact the fundamental ordinances, and cause acquisition of more national powers subject to devolution and the decommissioning process.
“These (nature-induced handicaps and hitches) constitute the very reason why we have asked for extension of BTA term (from 2022 to 2025) from the national government,” said Iqbal, who was confident Congress and the President will consider the clamor favorably. (Read a separate related story.)
Once the BTA operation term is extended with the passages of fundamental codes and devolution process done, the Bangsamoro people will be “assured” of a robust autonomous government that will cater to their needs and concerns, Iqbal said.
Turned over facilities, gadgets
Saturday’s event here was highlighted by the dispersal by Minister Hermoso of vital facilities the MoTC produced and acquired under his watch, namely: A P8.5-million speedboat with three engines at 25-horsepower each; 50 desktops: 50 motorized boats (bancas) made of fiberglass; and 25 negosyo carts worth P25,000 each.
The speedboat, also made of fiberglass with built-in comfort room, was manufactured in Sandakan, Malaysia and will assigned to theMaritime Transport-Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), an attached agency of MoTC, Hermoso said, adding two or three more units would be ordered for fabrication with two outboard engines each.
The 50 desktops were donated to the MoTC by the Brown Font PR Agency led by Dr. Lucio Ceniza, past president of the Order of Eagles Fraternity, to which Hermoso belongs. The desktops will be proportionately awarded to attached MoTC agencies like the Land Transportation Office, LRFRB, Marina, and the Regional Port Management Agency to digitalize their revenue collection operations, Hermoso said.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agrarian Reform (MAFAR) symbolically received in principle the 50 bancas with outboard engines, since the units were to be delivered yet to the MoTC. Hermoso said the awarding of the units will be done by the MAFAR, though suggesting that priority distribution be given to subsistent fishing people living around the vast Liguasan Marsh.
Four of the 25 negosyo carts were awarded to assigned recipients through the Ministry of Labor and Employment represented at Saturday’s event by Director General Dong Anayatin, who said the rest of the units will be awarded preferentially to subsistent informal labor workers in Cotabato City.
Anayatin said three of the rolling carts will be awarded to Maguindanao, Maranao and Tausog recipients for them to sell at the Cotabato airport the delicacies of their tribes.
Other even guests
Saturday’s event was also graced virtually by DoTC Undersecretary Raul del Rosario and Labor Secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III, who reportedly donated the 25 carts to MoTC on prodding by Minister Hermosa through Senator Bong Go.
Heads and personnel of MoTC and its attached agencies like LTO, LTFRB, Marina, the Civil Aviation Authority for the Bangsamoro, and RPMA were all in attendance with their uniforms bearing the logo/seals of the entities. AGM