Posted on February 20, 2020; updated on March 2,2020


The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) in partnership with Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) conducted a series of discussion sessions in Cotabato City on building effective and inclusive political parties and electoral system in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).   


The first session in the series was a forum at the EM Manor Hotel on February 25 with political parties and Bangsamoro civil society that focused on the critical role of political parties in a parliamentary system, the form of government of the Bangsamoro region. This was followed by a forum with policymakers on February 26 at the Pagana Restaurant wherein  invited Bangsamoro Parliament members and cabinet ministers and their technical staff explored best practices and lessons for developing an effective and inclusive political party system and on regulating political party finance.


The last two sessions hosted at the IAG Conference Hall were roundtable discussions with leaders  of Indigenous Peoples and election experts respectively. The roundtable with IP leaders focused on minority representation in party politics and the protection of minority rights through political party and electoral legislation. The roundtable with election experts, meanwhile, looked at the status of the evolving Bangsamoro electoral system and produced some practical recommendations moving forward, including:


Fast-tracking the writing of a quality and consultation-based Bangsamoro Electoral Code consistent with the Omnibus Election Code

The drafters of the Bangsamoro Electoral Code should ensure that the provisions of the pending law and its overall legal framework will not contradict that of the Omnibus Election Code. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) should lead the fleshing out of the framework of the Code in close collaboration with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and civil society, namely with established election watchdogs in order to incorporate lessons from their rich experience in election monitoring.

There is also a need for careful deliberation on whether to adopt open or closed lists in the electoral system in the Bangsamoro. The legal framework should determine how the reserved seats will be elected and determined. Major decisions that should be reflected in the legal framework include voter threshold, setting or abolishing the cap, ensuring gender balance, provision of subsidy to accredited political parties, and establishing an incentive system for political parties.


Determining the degree of autonomy to be exercised by BARMM

The interaction of BARMM/BTA with the COMELEC as well as the laws that will be created pertaining to the kind of electoral system that will be established in the region will determine and measure the extent of autonomy the BARMM would want for itself based on the quality of and the competencies that will be enlisted in the pending Bangsamoro Electoral Code.


Accreditation of political parties

It is important to define specific, realistic qualifications for regional political parties that wish to participate come regular elections. Setting these qualifications on the part of BTA would have to be consulted with COMELEC and civil society. Said qualifications need to be conscious of changing electoral environments in the future as well as the ideal structure of political parties after the first regular elections are held. It is also important to think about these things with respect to ever-changing electoral regional and local arrangements.


Accreditation of election watchdogs and creating avenues for their ensured participation

The pending Bangsamoro Electoral Code should also include clear guidelines and realistic qualifications for accrediting election watchdogs. Such qualifications should be created in consultation with civil society and the COMELEC to be able to learn from the experiences in ARMM and national level. Doing this would ensure that the BTA is maximizing the participation of civil society which will facilitate confidence-building between government and the public.

Involvement of election watchdogs and civil society in the discussions would also empower them to plan well in terms of how they will engage with the BTA. This will also enable them to look for sources of funding in doing activities related to civic education.


Time-sensitive decisions on the part of COMELEC and BTA

The COMELEC and the BTA should both have under its radar the critical decision points on issues such as election budget for the upcoming elections (necessary in indicative programming), re-districting, political parties and anticipating their likely behavior, among others. Both COMELEC and BTA should come up with a mechanism on how they can coordinate better and reach out to each other when it comes to providing inputs to the legal framework of the pending Bangsamoro Electoral Code. Being aware of the deadlines would be useful in managing and responding to any emerging frustrations and mistrust from the public.

Both COMELEC and BTA, with the latter as the lead, should collaborate in the drafting of the guidelines on procedural aspect of the parliamentary elections in the Bangsamoro. This is in recognition that the COMELEC has no experience holding parliamentary elections but the possibility of having it studied (through FGDs, case studies) can be explored and is very much welcomed by COMELEC. Studying the feasibility and acceptability of the proposed electoral system would put the BTA in a better position.


Determining the competencies of COMELEC and BTA

Dialogue between COMELEC and BTA should raise the issue of identifying their specific competencies. There should be a clear roadmap of what they can do as an institution with respect to shaping the manner by which parliamentary elections will take place in the BARMM. Said competencies should be clear and should be created with guidance from both COMELEC and BTA.


Creation of a technical working group (TWG)

The TWG will focus on the fast-tracking of the drafting of the Bangsamoro Electoral Code. Its creation will be supported by a resolution to be filed by the BTA calling on the leadership and COMELEC to be aware of the deadlines and time-sensitive decisions pertaining to upcoming synchronized national & local elections.


IAG is facilitating these sessions to help WFD enhance its understanding of the needs and opportunities relating to political party development in the BARMM and options available to it for future programming.


WFD experts who provided advice and input during the sessions were Alex Simm, WFD Programme Manager for Southeast Asia; Carlo Binda, co-founder of the Malta-based partnership, Binda Consulting International Ltd., who has ten years of international political and democracy development work in the Middle East and North Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, and West Africa; and Iain Gill, WFD Associate, who holds a strong track record of managing and delivering high quality capacity-building projects for political parties in Africa, the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe.


WFD’s new program in the Philippines focuses on the Bangsamoro Parliament, the transitional legislature of the newly established BARMM.


The BARMM was established following the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) early last year. The BOL articulates a vision that the establishment of a parliamentary system and a mixed electoral system will lead to the creation of political parties to capture the aspirations of a variety of important groups in the Bangsamoro.


WFD is the UK’s democracy assistance agency, working in partnership with political parties, parliaments and civil society organizations around the world to create more inclusive, accountable and transparent democratic systems.


A homegrown think tank based in Cotabato City, IAG runs an active political party building and development program that orients groups and individuals on “genuinely principled” political parties and help them build it. IAG believes that a genuinely principled political party is the basic building block and catalyst for change in the current and future political system in the Bangsamoro region and the Philippines as a whole.