The Bangsamoro Organic Law: Everything you need to know

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — In a historic move, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, home to minority Muslims fighting for self-determination in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.

During a speech in Zamboanga City on July 26, the President said he had signed the new law.

READ: Duterte signs Bangsamoro Organic Law

Duterte, the first Philippine President who hails from the South, promised to help the Moro people resolve their grievances, many of which stem from disputes on ancestral land and decades of neglect. But he is just the latest in a string of leaders to attempt to put an end to decades of conflict in the troubled region.

Numerous administrations have conducted peace negotiations with rebel groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), resulting in multiple versions of the proposed law, which was earlier called Bangsamor Basic Law.

Here is a guide to help you understand what the Bangsamoro Organic Law is, and what the Moro people are aiming for.

What is the BOL and why do we need one?

The BOL, now officially called the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM), is the result of decades-long peace negotiations between the rebel groups in Mindanao, mainly the MILF, and the Philippine Government.

The OLBARMM abolishes the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), established in 1989 through Republic Act No. 6734 and strengthened in 2001 through Republic Act No. 9054. Officials have earlier called the ARMM a failure, marred by corruption and mismanagement.

The new law then creates the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), or simply the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

University of the Philippines Islamic law and politics professor Jamel Cayamodin said the Bangsamoro law is designed to address the grievances, sentiments, and demands of Muslims in the region.

"When you talk about the BBL, it's the advocacy of every Muslim… For the past years, since martial law, the Muslims have been asking for self-determination," Cayamodin said.

He added the MILF previously called for total independence when under the helm of its founder Salamat Hashim. When Hashim died in 2003, the rebel group toned down its demands and instead lobbied for a truly autonomous region.

Cayamodin said provinces in the ARMM are consistently among the poorest sectors of the country, mainly due to corrupt and inefficient government officials. Clan wars or Rido were also prevalent in the region.

TIMELINE: Road to peace in Mindanao: The Bangsamoro Organic Law

In 2011, Malacañang said former President Benigno Aquino III considers the ARMM a "failed experiment."

After multiple rounds of talks that spanned almost a decade, the government and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2012.

In 2014, the two parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which incorporated the FAB and annexes on transitional arrangements, wealth, power-sharing, and water territories. It served as the basis of the draft BBL.

Several versions of the BBL have been proposed by lawmakers, including the first version submitted by Aquino to Congress in 2014. In 2015, a House committee approved the draft and renamed it the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. The Senate, meanwhile, passed its version of the bill and renamed it the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region Law.

While there were efforts to pass the BBL during the Aquino administration, the length and complexity of the bill led the Senate to temporarily defer its proceedings. The 16th Congress eventually failed to pass the measure before it adjourned.

The OLBARMM - the latest version of the BBL passed during the Duterte administration - reconciles versions of the proposed measure acceptable to both the government and the rebel groups.

MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, who also chairs the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that created the first draft of the BBL, earlier said they will not accept an autonomy that is equal to or less than the ARMM, which was the result of peace deals between the government and the MNLF.

How will the OLBARMM quell the rebellion in Mindanao?

In the peace deal that led to the creation of CAB in 2014, the MILF promised to decommission its troops and end the decades-long rebellion once the national government delivers its commitment of a new Bangsamoro region.

The MILF will then create its own political party to be involved in the governance of the new entity.

Jaafar said they are satisfied with the version approved by the bicameral conference committee.

"Satisfied kami, maganda po 'yung proceeding ng both Senate and House of Representatives. Doon sa provisions ng Bangsamoro Organic Law, more or less, ang gusto (naming) mapasama ay napasama sa provisions," Jaafar said.

[Translation: We are satisfied, as there were good proceedings in both Senate and House of Representatives. The provisions we want were more or less included in the Bangsamoro Organic Law.]

He added the MILF will work with the MNLF to achieve a unified government in the region.

"Hanggang ngayon, nakakausap ko 'yung prominent leaders ng MNLF in Davao. At sa pag-uusap naming ito, hindi nila nasabi sa akin na hindi sila pabor sa BBL. Pabor sila sa BBL," Jaafar said. "Natitiyak ko naman na tutulong sila, at hindi sila sasalungat. After all, itong gobyerno na ito ay inclusive to everyone."

The MILF is a breakaway group of the MNLF. The establishment of the ARMM is the result of negotiations between the government and the MNLF.

"Hindi po ito gobyerno ng MILF o MNLF. Ito po ay gobyerno ng lahat ng tao na nandoon," he added.

[Translation: Until now, I still get to talk to prominent leaders of MNLF in Davao. In all our conversations, they never told me they were against BBL. They are for BBL. I am sure they will help and will not oppose. After all, this government is inclusive to everyone. This is not a government of the MILF or MNLF. This is a government of all the people residing there.]

Under the OLBARMM, Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants may join the police force of the Bangsamoro region.

What are the differences between the ARMM and the BARMM?

Political structure and justice system

While the ARMM has a unitary form of government, the BARMM will have a parliamentary-democratic one. This means that the legislative and executive bodies in the ARMM are independent, while those in the BARMM are more closely related and empowered to enact its own laws.

In the ARMM, the residents elect their regional governor and vice governor. The regional governor has his own Cabinet and advisory council. The legislative power lies with the regional legislative assembly, whose 24 members are also elected by the people.

In the BARMM, the residents will elect an 80-member parliament representing different parties, districts, and sectors, including indigenous peoples. The members of the parliament will then elect a chief minister and two deputy chief ministers among themselves. The chief minister shall also appoint members of his Cabinet.

For the judiciary, both autonomous regions give Shari'ah courts jurisdiction over cases exclusively involving Muslims in the region. The OLBARMM gives the Supreme Court the authority to grant the incumbent Shari'ah District and Court judges who are not regular members of the Philippine Bar a period to qualify. Tribal laws will still apply to disputes of indigenous peoples within the region.

Fiscal autonomy and special development fund

Regional government officials under the ARMM must justify their funding before the Congress like other agencies. This resulted in the dependency of the supposed autonomous region on the national government for its annual budget.

Meanwhile, the BARMM will have an automatic allocation of the annual block grant, equivalent to five percent of the net national internal revenue of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.

The region's share in government revenue taxes, fees, charges, and taxes imposed on natural resources will increase to 75 percent from the current 70 percent.

The national government will also allocate the Bangsamoro P5 billion annually for a period of ten years, which will be used for the rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas.


The ARMM covers the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. The same provinces also comprise the BARMM.

However, a plebiscite still has to determine if 39 barangays in North Cotabato, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, and the cities of Cotabato in Maguindanao and Isabela in Basilan will be included in the Bangsamoro territory. The plebiscite will be held within three to five months after Duterte signs the law.

Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato will also have to vote as provinces if they are willing to let go of their towns and barangays to join the Bangsamoro.

Contiguous areas may also be included in the BARMM if there is a local government resolution or a petition where at least 10 percent of registered voters seek to join the plebiscite.

For territorial waters, existing laws define only municipal waters nationwide, including those in ARMM. These cover 15 kilometers from the low-water mark of coasts that are part of the territory. The Organic Law, meanwhile, introduces regional waters for the BARMM extending up to 19 kilometers from the low-water mark.

Inland waters

According to the administrative code of the ARMM, inland bodies of water in the region like Lake Lanao remain an "integral part of the national territory" of the country.

For the BARMM, all inland waters will be preserved and managed by the Bangsamoro government. However, those that are utilized for energy in areas outside the BARMM will be co-managed by the Bangsamoro government and the Department of Energy.

All government revenues from the development and usage of natural resources within the BARMM will go to the Bangsamoro government, but revenues from fossil fuels and uranium will be equally shared with the national government.

Defense and security

Like the ARMM, the national government will be responsible for the defense and security of the BARMM.

The Philippine National Police will also organize, maintain, and supervise a Police Regional Office to enforce the law.

Members of the MNLF and MILF may be admitted to the police force. The qualifications for age, height, and educational attainment may be waived if availed within five years after the ratification of the OLBARMM. Recruits from the two rebel groups must fulfill the requirement on educational attainment within 15 years.

Bangsamoro identity

Republic Act 9054, which strengthened the ARMM, provided an all-encompassing definition of the Bangsamoro people.

Section 3(b), Article X of the law states that they are "citizens who are believers in Islam and who have retained some or all of their own social, economic, cultural, and political institutions."

The OLBARMM, meanwhile, recognizes and retains the historical and geographical identity of the Bangsamoro people.

Section 1, Article II of the Organic Law states that Bangsamoro People are "those who, at the advent of the Spanish colonization, were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands, whether of mixed or of full blood," including their spouses and descendants.

Filipino Muslims perform 'Tarawih' prayer as they start the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Pink Mosque in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, Philippines.

How will the transition take place?

The transition from ARMM to BARMM will take place after the Commission on Elections holds a plebiscite, ratifying the latter.

President Duterte will then appoint 80 members to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which automatically includes the incumbent officials of the Regional Government. There must also be representatives for non-Moro indigenous communities, youth, women, settler communities, traditional leaders, and other sectors.

Duterte will also appoint an interim Chief Minister among the BTA members, who will then organize an interim Cabinet. Government personnel in education, health, and social welfare agencies will be retained.during this time.

The BTA will hold legislative and executive powers and is considered the Bangsamoro government during the transition.

The first local elections will be held in 2022. The BTA will be dissolved once elected officials assume office.

"When you talk about the BBL, it's the advocacy of every Muslim… For the past years, since martial law, the Muslims have been asking for self-determination." — Professor Jamel Cayamodin

Is the OLBARMM constitutional?

One of the major roadblocks faced by all versions of the BBL is constitutionality.

In 2008, the Supreme Court declared the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) unconstitutional due to the failure of the government and the MILF to engage and consult the affected communities. The MOA-AD proposed the creation of an autonomous political region in Mindanao with its own police, military, and judicial systems.

However, lawmakers and the BTC conducted several consultations with various communities for the OLBARMM.

House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said they even changed the wording of the law from a "basic law" to an "organic law" to adhere to the Constitution.

He added the draft measure originally proposed for the new entity to be referred as the Bangsamoro, but it was changed to Bangsamoro Autonomous Region to make it "very clear" that it is an autonomous region of the Philippines.

However, Fariñas said lawmakers still welcome questions of constitutionality on the OLBARMM, even if it is brought up to the Supreme Court.

"Of course, that's their right. And we want them to bring it [up so] it will pass the test of constitutionality," Fariñas said.

How will the Bangsamoro government work with the national government?

The Bangsamoro government will have an asymmetrical relationship with the national government, as the BARMM will have more autonomy than other regions in the country.

While the national government will retain powers over constitutional and national matters such as foreign affairs and defense, the Bangsamoro government will have exclusive powers over some areas including budgeting, administration of justice, agriculture, customary laws, creation of sources of revenue, disaster risk reduction and management, economic zones, ancestral domain, grants and donations, human rights, local government units, public works, social services, tourism, and trade and industry.

Various intergovernmental bodies will also be created to improve relations and resolve issues between the national and Bangsamoro governments.

These bodies include the Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum, the Fiscal Policy Board, the Joint Body for Zones of Joint Cooperation, the Infrastructure Development Board, the Energy Board, and the Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board.

The Muslim community in Mindanao is counting on the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law to hopefully attain the peace they long for.

CNN Philippines' Correspondent David Santos, and Digital Producers Amanda Lingao and Alyssa Rola contributed to this report.