By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – This was the confident assertion of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar as he assessed the possible territories that will be included in the Bangsamoro Autonous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
“We are very certain that Cotabato City will be part of Bangsamoro territory,” Jaafar told The Manila Bulletin over the phone on Friday in reaction to an earlier pronouncement by City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi that her constituents will unlikely join the proposed region.
Cotabato Cty currently belongs to administrative Region 12, but it has been serving for 29 years as “temporary seat” of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government, which will be replaced by BARMM under Republic Act 11054, which President Duterte signed into law on July 27.
The provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, which are currently under ARMM with be automatically absorbed in the new BARMM.
Within 150 days upon the enactment of RA 11054, a plebiscite will be conducted all over ARMM and in the cities of Cotabato and Isabela (in Basilan), six municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 39 villages in three North Cotabato towns.
The referendum will seek mere confirmation from ARMM electorate about the new law, while voters in the six towns and 39 villages will be asked to decide for inclusion in or exclusion from BARMM, lawmakers said.
The passage of RA 11054 was pursuant to two major peace accords forged by the MILF and the government in 2013 and 2014.
The MILF leadership said the new law reflects at least 85 percent of the original Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft crafted by the 24-member Transition Commission headed by Jaafar.
At Friday’s interview, Jaafar said top MILF officials alongside other Mindanao peace stakeholders will attend the grand ceremonial signing of the new law by President Duterte in Malacañang on August 6.
“After the ceremony, we will immediately return to work for massive information about the new law. We will visit all areas in ARMM in other plebiscite-covered communities to inform residents about the essence of the Bangsamoro autonomy,” Jaafar said.
He said they would encourage unregistered voters to list up for the plebiscite because the fate of Bangsamoro is “essential” in the clamor for lasting peace and sustainable development in Mindanao.
Citing initial informal random surveys, majority residents of Cotabato City are inclined to vote affirmatively come the plebiscite day, Jaafar said.
In different local and international forums, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo had averred that most, if not all, residents in this city “will be part of the proposed new region.”
Church leaders had played major roles in Cotabato City residents’ decision to reject inclusion in ARMM during a plebiscite years ago.