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Solons wary of P27-billion annual lumpsum for Bangsamoro


Two lawmakers from Mindanao have expressed concern over the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law's provision for a P27-billion annual block grant for the new autonomous government in Muslim Mindanao, citing the undue advantage it would have over the country's other local governments.
 
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, a member of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, said the Bangsamoro block grant was akin to the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) received by all local government units but exempted from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM)'s disbursement rules.

“It’s like a lump sum but at least the IRA of local governments is subject to DBM guidelines," Lobregat told reporters.

Critics of the pork barrel fund have defined it as a lump sum fund whose use is at the sole discretion of the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer. 
 
Under the proposed BBL, the Bangsamoro government will receive automatic appropriations whose amount will be computed through a specific formula, alongside other sources of funding.
 
Undue advantage 
 
Sen. Francis Escudero, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, earlier said the Bangsamoro government could receive around P70 billion annually if the proposed BBL is approved. 
 
In contrast, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) budget for 2015 is only P24 billion.
 
Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said the automatic release of the block grant and other appropriations will give the Bangsamoro region undue advantage over other LGUs.

“There’s a question about equal treatment and equality of the law,” he said.
 
Nograles said some lawmakers expressed concern that the grant of sizeable allocations to the Bangsamoro region would entice other provinces to eventually want to join it. 
 
“If you give as much as P70 to P75 billion per year to the Bangsamoro, then it would be very enticing for other localities ad LGUs to join it, especially the poorer ones,” Nograles said.
 
The so-called “opt-in” clause refers to Article III Section 3 of the bill, which originally states that areas which are contiguous and outside the core territory may opt at anytime to be part of the territory upon petition of at least 10 percent of the registered voter s and approved by a majority of qualified votes cast in a plebiscite.
 
Safeguards against misuse
 
House Ways and Means committee chairman Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo, however, sees nothing wrong with funnelling various appropriations to the Bangsamoro region considering that the ARMM is one of the poorest regions in the country. 
 
“Kung saan may sakit, kinakailangang bigyan ng gamot ‘yun. Dahil kapag gumaling ‘yan, mas marami ‘yang mako-contribute later on sa pangkabuuan ng ating bayan. As leaders we are here to solve problems. And right now, the most problematic place are [certain] areas in Mindanao,” he said. 
 
But Quimbo stressed that Congress should put the necessary safeguards to avoid misuse of the funds that will be given to the Bangsamoro region.
 
“I certainly agree that we cannot give an amount without putting in place the necessary safeguards that will prevent another ARMM from taking place. [Ang takot ng marami] baka abusuhin yung pondong ‘yan tulad noong mga nakaraan na ginagamit lamang ang mga ito at hindi naman nao-audit ng COA, hindi nalalaman kung saan napupunta,” he said. 
 
President Benigno Aquino III has called the ARMM a “failed experiment” for allegedly falling short of helping the Bangsamoro people achieve their aspirations. —NB, GMA News