(Cotabato City, June 29, 2018) “The ARMM business sector welcomes the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) however, we are apprehensive of what kind of BBL will emerge from the legislative mill. Will the BBL that will finally become law be better than ARMM?”, Dr. Rima Hassan, Ph.D., Chairperson of ARMM Business Council (ABC) said in her Opening Remarks during the “Forum on BBL and Business: Implications of the Senate and House Versions of the BBL on the Business Sector”. The forum was held on June 26, 2018 in Cotabato City and was organized by the Regional Board of Investments (RBOI), Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Hassan, who represents ABC, the umbrella organization of all business chambers and trade associations in the ARMM expressed doubts on the current BBL versions passed by both Senate and House of Representatives. The two houses of Congress are set to meet in a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the bill before it is ratified into law by July 23 of this year.
The BBL is being proposed as the “Autonomous Region in (of) Bangsamoro” to form a new autonomous political entity replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“If the BBL that will finally become a law is lesser than ARMM, then definitely this will have a negative effect on local businesses. That is why we appeal to our lawmakers that that the final version of the BBL must place the ARMM Organic Act as the baseline for any BBL that will be passed”, Hassan further said.
According to Hassan the ABC deemed the amendments to the original Bangsamoro Transition Commission draft BBL by both houses of Congress as making the current BBL less than ARMM.
In a statement, RBOI Chairman, lawyer Ishak V. Mastura, said that with the radical changes in the BBL, which made it lesser than ARMM as per the presentations of the Bangsamoro Study Group think tank during the forum, the passage of such a weak BBL could create major policy uncertainties and drastic changes in the business rules of the game, especially on the ease of doing business in the region.
“Investors, tend to place a high premium on clear lines of authority and decision making. Unclear changes in policies may lead to an impression of unpredictability and inconsistency. This level of uncertainty will make it difficult to attract new investments adversely affecting the economy of ARMM and the future Bangsamoro,” Mastura added.
Mastura cited as one example of these uncertainties, if the passage of a lesser BBL is a given, the removal of the devolved powers or mandate of the RBOI to issue fiscal incentives to investors, such as income tax holidays, reduced duty free importation of capital equipment, among others, in the House of Representatives version of the BBL and instead tax incentives can only be issued for regional taxes. In the Senate version of the BBL, all devolved powers have become subject to national law reducing the autonomy currently enjoyed by the ARMM.
RBOI registered firms now face the possibility that they will have to revert to national government supervision and even the possibility of review and at worse cancellation of their registration. But in that scenario Mastura promised the registered firms during the forum that they will ensure the smooth transition to the new rules and see to it that vested rights will be honored.
However, the level of ease of doing business currently enjoyed by the investors in the region will no longer be there as they have to deal with more layers of governmental authorities not to mention the Local Government Units.
A weak BBL with no clear level of autonomy will exacerbate the common complaint of investors in those countries and regions that were least successful in attracting investments that there was no one in a position of authority to make decisions. Nothing exasperates an investor more than the need to shuffle from one government office to another or to negotiate a seemingly endless bureaucratic ‘red tape’ where everyone and no one is in a position to resolve issues or grant approvals.
There are also concerns raised by particular industry sectors that legislative franchises issued by the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly may be affected, particularly in the Telecoms industry, wherein one or two Telecoms firms, have been issued regional franchises, since the House of Representatives version of the BBL removed autonomous powers over transportation and communications and the Senate version of the BBL subjected it to national laws, policies and rules.
The forum which was attended by over a hundred participants from different sectors mostly from the local businesses concluded with the overwhelming call to restore the autonomous powers already given to ARMM in the BBL and for the final version to be strongly based on the original BBL draft that was crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and work for the compliance to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
In a statement, ARMM Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman said that the forum was the best avenue for concerns of businesses and other groups to be raised and to let their voices be heard and appeal to the Duterte administration to remain faithful to peace agreements in order to ensure lasting peace and sustainable development in the region.
Resource persons of the forum were Atty. Naguib G. Sinarimbo, Convenor of the Bangsamoro Study Group (BSG), Atty. Maria JT Asis and Atty. RaissaJajurie, both of the Bangsamoro Study Group (BSG). Atty. LaisaMasuhud – Alamia, Executive Secretary of the Office of the Regional Governor -ARMM was also present in the forum to give the Closing Remarks.
In her closing remarks, Alamia promised to bring the concerns of the business sector to the appropriate levels of government. She said one of the things that the current ARMM administration can do is pass regional legislation such as the legislative charter of the Regional Ports Authority, as a form of “devolution” from below or assertion of regional autonomy, since both versions of BBL reduced, if not removed, autonomous powers over transportation, making real the possibility of local and regional ports reverting back to national government supervision. Both versions of the BBL have a provision that existing regional laws shall remain in force unless and until repealed.
According to other reports the government has asked for more time to resolve the issues on the BBL quoting President Duterte’s remarks.
"If perchance, if nothing really works out with the BBL, then give us time because I do not want to fight. I do not wage a war against my own countrymen. I really don't want to," Duterte said during the celebration of Eid'lFitr (the feast at the end of Ramadan month of fasting for Muslims) in Davao City last June 16.