A knowledge portal that promises to be a credible capacity-building online infrastructure for the Bangsamoro has been unveiled today, May 30, during a short ceremony in Cotabato City.


Access Bangsamoro is an online and social media portal that aims to promote the free flow of information, discussions and analyses for the effective implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and successful transition to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).


Maintained and hosted by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) and the Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) with funding assistance from the Government of Australia, “the Access Bangsamoro portal can potentially be a game-changer and a force for good in the Bangsamoro”, said IAG Executive Director Benedicto Bacani.


The launching ceremony in Cotabato City highlighted the messages of support from BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Presidential Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. and Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson.


Chief Minister Ebrahim said the Bangsamoro Government is committed to support Access Bangsamoro with the “hope that the portal will provide a significant space for research and discussions that will promote transparency, accountability and moral governance in the Bangsamoro.”


“While we continue to face critical issues and challenges during this transition period, we in the Bangsamoro Government will remain steadfast in pursuing good governance in the region. It is then our hope that the Access Bangsamoro would also be instrumental in pursuit of such noble cause,” added the BARMM chief minister who assumed the leadership of the expanded autonomous region in southern Philippines only last February.


Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana lauded Access Bangsamoro, calling it a “masterfully designed” concept that can “bring stakeholders together to openly exchange views on how to realize prospects and address gaps and challenges in a policy-based approach.”


“The challenge is now upon us to maximize this platform to achieve its objectives in assisting in the successful transition. It took us decades to be where we are now, in a state where we can finally provide our Moro brothers and sisters the real fighting chance to a peaceful and progressive life, and the democratic space to exercise their right to self-determination. We can neither fail nor falter,” he added.


The defense secretary was recently named by President Rodrigo Duterte as Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) for BARMM.


Secretary Lorenzana also thanked the Australian Government for funding the project, saying the “shared endeavor is another leaf to our countries’ years of friendship.”


Australia has allocated about A$85 million for development assistance to the Philippines this year with 50 percent focused on Mindanao specifically for education, infrastructure, governance and planning budget.


The IAG-ASOG Access Bangsamoro collaboration is part of the Australian Government support to peace and stability in the Bangsamoro region.


“During the transition period, the structures and processes to implement the Bangsamoro Organic Law and rebuild democratic institutions will be put in place. Access Bangsamoro will serve as a platform for education and discussion, help create sound and effective evidence-based public policy, and engage as wide a part of society as possible,” Ambassador Robinson said.


BTA-BARMM Parliament Speaker Ali Pangalian Balindong hailed Access Bangsamoro as a third-party initiative that “will definitely help push the peace envelope further forward.”


“It will help inform the whole country of the Bangsamoro, especially that many up to now may still just think that the issues in the region are only of the region, including a host of prejudices and assumptions about the people in the region,” Speaker Balindong said.


Secretary Galvez called Access Bangsamoro “an innovative initiative” that can be a “valuable tool for the BARMM government's efforts to carry out meaningful and sustainable reforms in the region, where people can be apprised on what’s happening in the Bangsamoro, participate in discourse relating to governance, and put their insights and suggestions forward.”


For IAG Development Consulting Inc. (IDCI) chief operations officer and former ARMM board of investments chief Ishak Mastura, the portal “is not just any kind of web portal but a window to the challenges of Bangsamoro modernity.”


“For too long the Bangsamoro has struggled to keep its culture and tradition alive amidst a fast evolving modern and technological world. It is the hope of Access Bangsamoro that by leveraging today and tomorrow’s analytical and technological tools, we also strive to go up the learning curve and not remain content with our past traditions and culture that have enabled us to survive but in fact we may need them to be re-examined and adapted to the challenges of modernization,” he said.


Lawyer Michael Henry Yusingco, a senior fellow with ASOG and IAG, added that “the success of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will definitely be an impetus for the rest of the country to reform the current national decentralization framework. Hence, Access Bangsamoro can also help Filipinos how to establish genuine and meaningful local autonomy in the country as designed by the 1987 Constitution.”


Access Bangsamoro as a repository of policy and legislative ideas is an online platform Yusingco said he would recommend to reform-minded Filipinos, hoping that “it can later evolve into a community of citizens working together not just for a stable and prosperous BARMM, but also for a better and brighter Philippines.”


Access Bangsamoro initially focuses on three policy issues. These are intergovernmental relations, parliamentary and electoral system, and public finance management and block grant.


The establishment of intergovernmental relations (IGR) mechanisms is an innovative feature of the BOL but one that will be extremely challenging. The BOL mandates the creation of various 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.


The most challenging item in the BTA’s to-do-list is the familiarization of the entire Bangsamoro community to the new parliamentary structure of the regional government as mandated by the BOL. The chief minister in the BARMM is not directly elected by the people unlike the regional governor in the ARMM. This is a totally new dynamic because people will not only be voting for a member to the Bangsamoro Parliament, but they will also be indirectly voting for the potential chief minister.


Public financial management, the third policy issue,  concerns the effective administration of the collection and allocation of funds by the state. The block grant is only one element, albeit a very important one, of a broader area of concern in the BARMM that is public finance. The institution of the block grant in the BOL represents a fundamental shift in the fiscal position of the regional government of the BARMM. The block grant shall be equivalent to 5 percent of national revenue collections and shall be automatically released to the Bangsamoro government subject to its full control. This is a significant departure from the current arrangement wherein the ARMM is treated similarly to a line agency of the national government.


A website, Facebook page, Twitter page and YouTube channel comprise the Access Bangsamoro portal when it is launched on May 30. Guests visiting the website at accessbangsamoro.ph will be able to dig deeper into the three policy issues, read think pieces from Access Bangsamoro’s senior fellows and network of experts and learn more about the Bangsamoro through data and infographics. YouTube videos featuring local and international experts discussing issues relevant to the Bangsamoro are also embedded in the website under “Bangsamoro Talks”.


For the maiden offering of “Bangsamoro Talks”, guests can watch Laureate Professor Emeritus Cheryl Saunders of the Melbourne Law School talk about intergovernmental relations and its implementation in the BARMM as mandated by the BOL, Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) of the House of Representatives Director General Romulo Emmanuel “Jun” Miral Jr. discuss the concept of the BARMM block grant, Australian National University Professor Paul Hutchcroft explain what it means for BARMM to have a parliamentary system and what kind of implications this might have for the choice of the electoral system and Mindanao State University (MSU-IIT) Iligan Chancellor Sukarno Tanggol talk about the electoral code for the BARMM.


An IAG team based in Cotabato City and ASOG team based in Manila will populate the website with more content in the coming weeks. Follow Access Bangsamoro on facebook.com/accessbangsamoro and twitter.com/accessbm. Visit the website at accessbangsamoro.ph.