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Bangsamoro gov't continues decommissioning process

Bangsamoro gov't continues decommissioning process
$1.5B budget for 2021 undergoing parliament reading, expected to be approved before year's end, says chief minister

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

ANKARA (AA) - The decommissioning process for former combatants in the autonomous Bangsamoro region in the southern Philippines continues as more than 64 have completed vocational training earlier this week.

“They were part of the first decommissioning batch of 12,000 former combatants and the process will continue until the end of normalization,” Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told Anadolu Agency.

Ebrahim said the decommissioning of a second batch of 14,000 former combatants was underway.

“We expect to decommission 40,000 former combatants until the normalization process is complete but there is no time limit as the decommissioning process is also linked to other things like the creation of the Bangsamoro police,” he said.

A historic referendum was held on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 last year in southern Mindanao granting autonomy to Moro Muslims in Bangsamoro.

On Feb. 26, 2019, Ebrahim of the newly-formed autonomous region received his post from the central government’s regional governor in an official ceremony.

He was appointed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to administer the Bangsamoro Transition Authority through 2022 when normalization is expected to be complete.

Former combatants were part of the Ebrahim-led Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which currently runs the autonomous government.

Under the transition plan, former fighters of the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will be eligible to join the armed forces of the region.

- ‘Urgent budget undergoing debate’

Ebrahim said he marked the 2021 budget as “urgent” because of the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget bill for 2021 -- the fiscal year starts in January and ends in December in the autonomous region -- amounts to around $1.5 billion.

“The budget is undergoing second readings and is expected to be put to vote before this month ends,” according to the chief minister.

Bangsamoro regional parliament has 80 members -- 41 belong to the MILF and the remaining 39 are handpicked by the Philippine president.

Some members nominated by the president belong to MNLF. The MILF and MNLF operated together in the past.

The two factions are aligned in parliament.

The budget bill will be presented to the Department of Budget and Management in the national capital Manila, which will release the money, said Ebrahim.

“The Bangsamoro budget is a block grant from the national government and is equal to 5% of the entire national tax and the coastal fee collected annually,” he said.

Besides, he said, “for the next 10 years until 2029, the Bangsamoro regional government will collect all taxes from the region of nearly 5 million people and is not required to share that amount with the national government.”

Under the transition agreement, after 2029, the Bangsamoro government will share 25% of taxes collected in the region with Manila.

In 2019, it collected around 2 billion pesos ($41.6 million) in taxes.

- Extension sought in transition phase

Ebrahim said his transition government sought an extension until at least 2025 so that “we get enough time to normalize.”

“Normalization cannot be completed until 2022, and the period needs to be extended before we conduct the elections for the autonomous government,” he said.

The need for an extension in the transition phase comes after the Ebrahim-led government in October launched the Bangsamoro Administrative Code [BAC] which will define the structural, functional and procedural principles and rules of governance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Our assessment says normalization can’t finish until 2022,” Ebrahim said. “President Duterte affirmed his support but it requires amendment in the central law for which we need to engage with the Philippines Congress.”

Under the transition plan, the region will enjoy comprehensive autonomy where Muslims will be free in their internal affairs, being able to establish and administer courts of Islamic law within their jurisdiction and manage their surrounding waters jointly with the central government.

"We are going to Manila to engage with the two houses of the Philippines Parliament next week," he said.

The autonomous government will be bound to the Philippines in foreign policy, though with some flexibility.

source: News Feed
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