The autonomous Bangsamoro government in the southern Philippines on Tuesday began discussions to draft a budget for the next financial year.

In a statement, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority’s (BTA) Committee on Finance, Budget, and Management (CFBM) said that it has begun deliberation on the proposed allocations for the budget of its different ministries and offices.

The budget — Bangsamoro Expenditure Program 2021 — discussions started after the region’s Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim last Thursday proposed 75 billion Philippine pesos ($1.5 billion) for the fiscal year 2021.

“We remain true to the cause of our people and the oath that we took when began this journey together,” Ebrahim said adding that despite massive challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic, “the Bangsamoro Government’s mandate to its people remains the same.”

“None of which, of course, can be possible without approving a financial program that can respond to the unprecedented needs of these trying times enabling our community to bounce back better,” he said.

“What makes this financial program distinct from last year is the inclusion of efforts towards the public health crisis and other significant initiatives that were not part of last year’s fiscal design,” he said.

This is the first budget after the regional government launched the Bangsamoro Administrative Code (BAC) in October.

The BAC defines the structural, functional, and procedural principles and rules of governance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Under its transitional plan with the national government of the Philippines, the Bangsamoro government gets 5% of national and customs taxes every year from Manila.

Last year, the region got a budget of over $1 billion which was distributed to 18 ministries of the Bangsamoro regional government.

Over 65% of the budget is allocated to fund projects of these ministries and administration of offices while the remaining 34.39% is classified as “special purpose funds.”

The predominantly Muslim area (which has a population of nearly five million) voted for greater autonomy in a referendum held last year, ending decades of conflict and paving the way for a three-year transition toward elections.

On Feb. 26, 2019, Murad, who is also the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which led the armed struggle, took charge as the regional head till 2022.

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