It cannot be emphasized enough that for the newly organized Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) the path ahead is extremely challenging. Right up there in the BTA’s challenging to-do-list is the familiarization of the entire Bangsamoro community to the concept of Intergovernmental Relations or IGR.
The BOL calls for the organization of IGR bodies such as the National Government-Bangsamoro Government Intergovernmental Relations Body, the Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum, Fiscal Policy Board, Joint Body for Zones of Joint Cooperation, Infrastructure Development Board, Energy Board and Sustainable Development Board.
Clearly, under the BOL the Bangsamoro government has an elevated status over other local governments in terms of its relationship with the central government.
Through these IGR mechanisms the Bangsamoro government can be at par with the national government when it comes to the decision-making process involving particular development and governance mandates. This is so contrary to the status of other local governments where most often than not, decisions have been made for them by the national government.
Furthermore, the BOL specifically commands that the Bangsamoro government shall be represented in the departments, offices, commissions, agencies and bureaus of the national government that implement and enforce policies, programs, and projects of the national government in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
Such a statutory command essentially characterizes the Bangsamoro government as a partner of the central bureaucracy within the Bangsamoro region. Contrary to the treatment of local governments as mere agents of the national government.
Crucially, given its access to the block grant, it is paramount for the Bangsamoro government to have a firmer claim on its autonomy than the regional government it replaced. Otherwise, this vastly increased fund transfer may also fail to deliver the development outcomes many of the people in the Bangsamoro region are hoping for.
These particular IGR mechanisms in the BOL, through the mandate to coordinate and resolve issues on intergovernmental relations, can empower the Bangsamoro government to fend off unwarranted national government intrusion in regional affairs.
But to fully utilize IGR systems, there are three key elements. The first one is that there should be mutual respect between the different levels of government. There must be an unequivocal recognition of each side’s authority and accountability.
Second, there must be an ethos of interdependence. Each side must see the need to cooperate and collaborate to achieve the intended goal.
Third, the IGR mechanism must be seen as a platform for civic participation. Hence, there must be space for civil society organizations to engage in the policy-making process as well as in the implementation phase of any development program.
Without these three features, the IGR mechanisms in the BARMM may not lead to the outcomes contemplated in the BOL. Hence, establishing the IGR bodies in the BOL may prove to be very difficult.
For one thing, the traditional one-sided power relations between the central government and the regional government, as well as the domination of national government agencies in most matters of governance, will be huge obstacles in ensuring mutual respect is part and parcel of the BARMM’s IGR bodies.
Furthermore, the culture of dependency on the central government prevailing amongst local politicos in the BARMM can be a major issue in implementing IGR mechanisms mandated by the BOL. A patronage mindset will undermine any IGR framework.
Notably, IGR is the lifeblood of a federal system. Just like in the Bangsamoro however, IGR is still an unfamiliar concept for Filipinos. Indeed, the traditional omnipresence of the President in all aspects of government and the tendency of the central government to dominate public policy are major challenges to reckon with. Hence, even in the context of the administration’s federalism initiative, how to define IGR in the broader national context and plot its implementation will not be easy.
Nevertheless, by design the fiscal autonomy provisions and the IGR mechanisms in the BOL are venues for the Bangsamoro government to assert true autonomy against the traditional domination of the central government. Therefore, it is now incumbent upon the Bangsamoro community to get more excited about learning the specifics of the BOL’s IGR mechanisms.
It will certainly be a big boost if experts in this field are brought in to share potent IGR strategies and techniques to prospective members of the BTA and to Bangsamoro community organizations.
More specifically, the BTA can organize a small cohort of civil servants in the BARMM to undergo a specialized training on IGR. This group then can write a general principles handbook which can then guide the organization of the IGR bodies mandated by the BOL.
IGR could be the game-changer for the BARMM. Potentially, the monopoly of the central government in decision-making can be replaced by mutual respect and interdependence. Assuring that there will no longer be a unilateral imposition of public policies by one level of government over the other. Moreover, there can be genuine collaboration amongst stakeholders. At least for some development mandates, the Bangsamoro community can be assured of a coherent approach by the BARMM from planning to execution.
The political and fiscal governance mechanisms instituted in the BOL are true platforms to exercise effective self-governance. The caveat of course is that the Bangsamoro leadership must assert complete compliance of the BOL. Even if doing this means battling with the national government again, but this time within the confines of the IGR framework.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M is a law lecturer, legislative and policy consultant and a nonresident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government.