By Vanne Elaine P. Terrazola
Zamboanga City/Isabela City, Basilan – The City of Zamboanga has spoken then as now: It does not want to be a part of the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) which will be created once the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is passed.
The sentiment of the majority of Zamboangueños was aired by Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco at the 10th hearing of the Senate subcommittee on the BBL here Friday.
Residents attending the public hearing held at the Zamboanga City State Polytechnic College gymnasium stood in support as Climaco read the city government’s “firm, consistent, and unequivocal” position before senators and other government officials, including Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza.
“The city should never form part nor be included in the Bangsamoro – now or never,” Climaco stated to the applause of residents who were present.
Climaco added that none of its 98 barangays should “ever” be included in the Bangsamoro region.
A city dominated by Catholics, Zamboanga City had consistently refused to be a part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In the 1989 plebiscite, 90,152 voted against the city’s inclusion in the ARMM against 5,299 who voted in favor. In 2001, an “overwhelming” 112,735 agreed to be excluded in the ARMM, as against 5,849 who were in favor. The city also opposed the signing on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) during the Arroyo administration.
“This stand has never wavered,” Climaco said.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said he understands the city’s position which is “proven by history.”
“But actually this is not a big issue anymore because it was recognized by the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) which drafted the bill. Zamboanga City is not compelled to be part of the plebiscite so more or less, that is a settled issue already,” he said.
Among other concerns, Climaco noted the city’s municipal waters under RA 8550 (Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998) shall remain within their territory. Moreover, the commercial fishing industry shall be allowed to conduct deep-sea fishing under existing regulations of the national government and not the Bangsamoro region.
Climaco said Zamboanga City’s sardine industry, which it is famous for, “will be greatly disturbed by the expansion of the waters of the Bangsamoro territory.”
“This may have long term repercussion on food security, not only of Zamboanga, but of the entire country,” she said.
Meanwhile, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar appealed to fellow Muslims for patience, expressing hope that the long-overdue measure will soon pass Congress’ scrutiny.
Jaafar chairs the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which drafted the proposed BBL which has been adopted by the Senate Subcommittee.
The Senate committee has been conducting public consultations in Mindanao in order for them to hear the sentiment on the ground about the measure which will give Mindanao autonomy.
Resource speakers refused a watered-down BBL and pushed to implement the BTC draft as is.
But Jaafar explained, “may dinadaanang proseso. Hindi naman pwedeng in just one night, anjan na. So hinihingi po namin sa mga kababayan namin in Bangsamoro, let us wait. March 22, tapos na ang BBL (There is a process to be followed. We can’t have it in one just night. So we are asking our people in Bangsamoro, let us wait. By March 22, BBL is approved),” he said.
Pimentel, likewise asked the Bangsamoro people to understand that changes have to be made in the BTC draft.
“Please respect the Senate’s legislative power that we also have to – allow us to propose amendments,” he told the Basilan audience.
Subcommittee chair Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who is also from Mindanao assured stakeholders to keep the “essence” of the draft especially its provisions on self-governance.
This is the third time that the government is attempting to pass a law abolishing the ARMM and creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Efforts to enact the proposed BBL during the 16th Congress have been derailed by criticisms over its constitutionality, in addition to unprecedented events such as the massacre of 44 elite troopers of the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in a massacre in MILF territory in January, 2015.