DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 December) – The first election of the 80-member Bangsamoro Parliament on May 12, 2025 is less than 17 months away but preparations have yet to start as the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Bangsamoro Electoral Code (BEC) has yet to be approved, the proposed “Parliamentary Districts Act of 2023” has just been filed and the Supreme Court is being asked anew in an urgent petition-in-intervention to declare as unconstitutional some provisions of the region’s electoral code.
May 2025 will be the first time voters in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will elect their regional leaders in what would be a six-year old autonomous region by then.
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace pact signed by the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014, paved the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in January 2019 after the ratification of the peace pact’s enabling act, Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM. The BARMM is the lone region adopting a parliamentary system in a 17-region country with a highly-centralized Presidential system.
The BARMM is currently being run by the MILF-led 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), appointed by the President of the Philippines to serve as the Bangsamoro Government during the transition period that should have ended on June 30, 2022 but was extended to June 30, 2025.
Equal access, equal protection, freedom of association
In his 46-page petition filed on December 7 at the Supreme Court, Datu Michael Mastura, former Representative of the first district of Maguindanao and former member and senior legal adviser of the MILF peace panel, asked the Supreme Court (SC) to declare as unconstitutional provisions of the BEC on additional qualifications and requirements for political parties that allegedly violate the Constitutional guarantees of equal access to public service and equal protection, and the citizens’ fundamental right of freedom of association.
He also asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction directing the MILF-led BTA and Chief Minister Ahod “Murad” Ebrahim, the MILF chair, to cease and desist from implementing the questioned provisions.
Mastura describes as “restrictive” the provisions on registration of political parties requiring at least 10,000 membership and the high voting threshold of 4% for political parties to be entitled to a seat in the BARMM’s party representation system.
Mastura’s petition is in relation to the main case file before the Supreme Court on June 14, 2023 by Atty. Dimnatang Pansar, et al vs. the BTA and Ebrahim. The petitioners want the SC to declare the BEC unconstitutional for similar reasons.
Mastura, principal author of RA 7941 or the Party-List System Act, questioned Sections 1, 3, 4, 5, 10 and 13 of Article III and Sections 6, 9, and 12, 17 and 18 of Article IV of the BEC for allegedly violating the Constitution, the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and national laws particularly the Omnibus Election Code and the Party-List System Act.
The 80-member Parliament that would be elected in May 2025 is composed of 40 party representatives, 32 district representatives and eight sectoral representatives.
The regional election will be held simultaneously with the national and local elections. The filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2025 polls is 10 months away, in October 2024.
December 29, 2023 and April 30, 2024 deadlines
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has set December 29, 2023 as deadline for the filing of petitions for the registration of political parties and party-lists in connection with the 2025 national and local elections.
The Comelec approves all registration of political parties, including those in the Bangsamoro region. The Bangsamoro Registration and Accreditation Committee (BRAC) accepts the application for registration and recommends approval to the Comelec.
On December 7, the Comelec announced through its Facebook page that the December 29 deadline does not apply to the BARMM: “The deadline is on 29 December 2023, except for regional political parties intending to register, accredit, and/or participate exclusively in the (BARMM), for which a different deadline will be fixed pending the approval of, and in accordance with, the implementing rules and regulations of the Bangsamoro Electoral Code of 2023,” the Comelec said.
The announcement, written at the bottom of the card, has been posted daily in the countdown to December 29 and was still posted on December 25 with four more days left to the December 29 deadline.
On October 19, the Comelec en banc led by chair George Erwin Garcia came to this city for a dialogue with the Bangsamoro Study Group drafting the BEC’s IRR.
The draft IRR was formally submitted to the Comelec on November 21, 2023 for approval, according to lawyer Rav Bhari of the BTA. As of December 25, the Comelec has yet to approve the BEC’s IRR.
The BEC provides under Article IV, Section 6 that “only regional political parties duly registered and/or accredited by the BRAC, as approved by the Commission on Elections, shall participate in the parliamentary elections.”
The BEC also states that a regional political party applying for registration “shall receive no financing from national parties nor have any alliance with a national party for the purpose of participating in parliamentary elections in the Bangsamoro.”
The BEC provides that regional political parties shall submit to the Comelec through the BEO, a manifestation of their intent to participate in the parliamentary election of party representatives in the Bangsamoro “no later than the last working day of April of the year preceding the next parliamentary elections.” The parties are to attach in their respective manifestations, their list of nominees, ranked from one to 40. For the May 2025 elections, the deadline is on April 30, 2024.
10,000 members and 4% voting threshold
In his petition-in-intervention, Mastura argues that Bangsamoro Autonomy Act 35 or the BEC, “imposed additional qualifications for political parties totally nixing the constitutional guarantees” of freedom of association and equitable party representation, among others.
He cited the BEC’s Article III, Section 1 which provides that regional political parties in the Bangsamoro “shall be established by at least 10,000 members who are residents and registered voters … throughout the different provinces and cities comprising the Bangsamoro territory” and Section 9 on party representation, which requires that the political parties receive at least four per cent (4%) of the total valid votes cast for the party system election.”
The Constitutional requirements on registration of political parties and organizations do not prescribe a minimum number of members and under the Party-List System Act, parties, organizations and coalitions receiving at least two percent (2%) of the total votes cast for the party-list system shall be entitled to one seat each and those with more than 2% of the votes are entitled to additional seats in proportion to their number of votes but not to exceed three seats.
Mastura noted that while RA 7941 or the Party-List System Act provides for a 2% threshold of the total valid votes cast of the Party List votes to be allocated seats under the Party-List System, the BEC provides a threshold of at least 4% of the total valid votes cast for the party system of proportional representation.
“Thus, there is a direct clash of the provisions of the BEC and Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party List System Act,” he said.
He also stressed that the BEC’s section on definition terms, “does not even provide for a definition of the proportional representation system that it seeks to implement.”
Mastura, who had earlier served as senior legal adviser of the MILF, noted that this party-list requirement is contained in the CAB.
“My objective in filing this intervention is to highlight that the restrictive BEC provisions for the registration and participation of regional political parties defeat the purpose of a multiparty system that is free and open. The only way that we can provide for the liberal formation and participation of regional political parties in the BARMM is if we go back to the CAB, wherein the non-restrictive and Constitutional party registration requirements under the Party-List System Act, is envisioned,” Mastura said.
Mastura added that if the restrictive BEC provisions on party registration is declared unconstitutional, the default party registration system in the Party-List System Act or the general provisions on party registration of the Omnibus Election Code can be applied.
Sectoral and Single district representatives
Of the eight reserved seats in the Bangsamoro Parliament, the Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples and Settler Communities will have two representatives each while the women, youth, Ulama and traditional leaders.
Parliamentary Bill 267 or the proposed “Parliamentary Districts Act of 2023,” was filed by the Government of the Day on December 7, had its first reading on December 18 and its second reading on December 19 where it was referred to the Committee on Rules.
As proposed, the 32 single district seats will be allocated across the BARMM’s six provinces (Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur, Sulut and Tawi-Tawi), three cities (Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato) and Special Geographic Area comprising 63 barangays in six North Cotabato towns.
The seats are to be apportioned equitably based on population and land area.
The BARMM has a population of 4.94 million. A district must have at least 100,000 population.
The bill proposes that Basilan will have three seats, eight for Lanao del Sur, four for Maguindanao del Norte, four for Maguindanao del Sur, seven for Sulu, three for Tawi-Tawi, two for Cotabato City and one for the SGA.
The bill will still undergo public hearings. But the Bangsamoro Parliament has been on recess since December 22 and will resume sessions on January 15, 2024.
By then, there will be only 16 months left to the May 2025 polls and nine months to the filing of certificates of candidacy in October 2024 and three months to the April 30, 2024 deadline for manifestation of their intent to participate in the election of party representatives in the Bangsamoro. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)