By APIPA P. BAGUMBARAN
MARAWI CITY–The Bangsamoro Parliament unanimously approved BTA Bill No. 29 on third and final reading, fulfilling a promise to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to enact the Bangsamoro Electoral Code in the first quarter of 2023.
Presiding Chair Deputy Speaker Lawyer Omar Yasser Sema banged the gavel at 11:58 p.m. to approve the region’s electoral law that will prescribe the structural, functional, and procedural principles of the elections, referenda, and recall proceedings in the BARMM.
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The measure was approved with 64 affirmative votes, zero negative votes, and zero abstentions.
It was approved on second and final reading on the same day, despite the three-day rule, because it was certified as urgent by BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim.
Chief Minister Ebrahim and BTA Speaker Lawyer Pangalian Balindong led the ceremonial signing of the Bangsamoro Autonomy Act No. 35 or the Bangsamoro Electoral Code of 2023.
The 11-article final version of the electoral code consists of introductory provisions, the Bangsamoro electoral office, regional political parties in the Bangsamoro, elective positions in the Parliament, elections upon dissolution of the Parliament, the voters, election administration, election offenses, legal fees, transitory provisions, and final provisions.
The electoral law will encourage the formation of genuinely principled political parties in the Bangsamoro region.
Ebrahim said that the MPs committed to establish a government deserving of the name “Bangsamoro” when they took the oath of moral governance at the beginning of the transition period.
He said that they also committed to enact an electoral code that would help pave the way for more democratic elections in the region, in which genuinely moral political parties would be able to participate.
“In fact, the Bangsamoro electoral code’s adoption today is a major step towards realizing such a promise,” he said.
As he voted to approve the code, Speaker Balindong said, “It is an opportune time for us to set a new stage for our future leaders to lead our people by exemplifying honesty, equality, and empowering the true voice of democracy.”
The BTA Bill No. 29 was introduced in Parliament in September 2022 and referred to the Rules Committee.
Led by a woman Bangsamoro lawmaker, Floor Leader Lawyer. Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba, the committee held a ten-day deliberation, examining the provisions in the proposed code line by line, before the code’s approval in plenary.
From October 2022 to January 2023, 12 public consultations were held in Manila, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Cotabato City, and the BARMM Special Geographic Area to ensure that all stakeholders were involved in the legislation process.
During the transition period, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)-led interim government is tasked with enacting priority codes such as administrative, civil service, education, electoral, local governance, revenue, and indigenous peoples’ rights.
To date, the Parliament has passed administrative, civil service, education, and electoral codes.
“This is the fourth priority code that we have enacted; let us build on this positive momentum to finish the remaining priority codes and other important legislation as soon as possible,” said Ebrahim.
Citing the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the Bangsamoro government should adopt an electoral system that is consistent with national election laws, allows democratic participation, encourages the formation of genuinely principled political parties, and ensures accountability.
The Bangsamoro government should also ensure that elections at all levels of government in Bangsamoro are free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the genuine will of the electorate.
In accordance with the BOL and the electoral code, a Bangsamoro Electoral Office will be established by and under the direct control and supervision of the COMELEC.
The BEO will supervise all national, regional, and local elections, plebiscites, initiatives, referenda, and recall proceedings within the Bangsamoro region to ensure compliance with election laws and other pertinent rules of the COMELEC.
According to the electoral code, regional political parties must have at least 10,000 members who are residents and registered voters.
Members should be distributed throughout the various provinces and cities that comprise the Bangsamoro territory, provided that all parties establish provincial and city chapters in all provinces and cities, as well as municipal chapters in the majority of municipalities that comprise each province, in the Bangsamoro.
All parties intending to register as political parties should submit applications to the BEO through the Bangsamoro Registration and Accreditation Committee.
Composition of the Parliament
Under the code, the Parliament is composed of 80 members with 50% party representatives, 40% district representatives, and 10% sectoral representatives.
A member of the Parliament must be at least 25 years old on election day, be able to read and write and be a registered voter in the Bangsamoro region.
At the time of the voting, a candidate for youth representative must not be older than 30 years old or younger than 18.
Party representatives are registered regional political parties with at least 4% of the total valid votes cast in the party system election.
In terms of party representation seat allocation, only parties receiving at least 4% of the total valid votes cast in the party representation elections are eligible to participate in the allocation of party representation seats.
A candidate for district representative must be a registered voter in the district in which he is running and has lived in the district for at least one year before the election.
Not more than 40% of MPs should be elected from single-member parliamentary districts apportioned to the areas and in the manner prescribed by Parliament.
The district representatives should be elected by registered voters in the parliamentary districts using a direct plurality vote.
Sectoral representatives should make up at least 10% of the MPs, with two seats reserved for non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities. Women, youth, traditional leaders, and the Ulama will each be assigned one seat.
The first regular election for the Bangsamoro Government will be held and synchronized with the 2025 national elections, as stipulated in the Bangsamoro Organic Law. (BTA Parliament/PIA-10 Lanao del Sur)