By Keith Bacongco
COTABATO CITY – After 30 years and three plebiscites, the people of this city have finally spoken in making this city a possible seat of the incoming Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Excitement and hope fills the atmosphere outside the canvassing venue in Cotabato City as these Muslim women flash peace sign upon learning the overwhelming results of the plebiscite for the ratificaiton of Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). (Keith Bacongco / MANILA BULLETIN)
The Commission on Election (Comelec) Cotabato City bared on Tuesday night the final result of the canvassing at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center inside the Office of the Regional Governor complex – the “Yes” votes for the inclusion of the city to the BARMM were 36,682 over the “No” votes with 24,994. The “Yes” votes won by 11,688 votes.
Since the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 1989, the city, which administratively belongs to Region 12, has been ARMM’s “provisional seat” of government.
It was then Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-led Nur Misuari who sought the inclusion of the city in the ARMM but failed twice in the 1989 and 2001 plebiscites. In 2001, Republic Act 9054 was passed on the expansion of ARMM and a plebiscite was held in 11 provinces and 14 cities.
Only Basilan and Marawi City opted to join the expanded ARMM.
"A victory of the people,” said Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Implementing Chair Mohagher Iqbal. “A hard earned, but indeed very sweet success.”
Iqbal attributed the growth of the city to being the regional center of the ARMM. Had it not for the struggle the MILF, the MNLF and the Bangsamoro people undertook that led to the establishment of the ARMM, Iqbal said Cotabato City would not be what it is today.
After the ‘Yes’ vote won in Cotabato City, Atty. Benedicto Bacani, executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance based at the Notre Dame University of Cotabato City, said “Cotabato City will journey into uncharted waters.”
“Being part of the Bangsamoro region which is by itself a new experiment, the impact of this new arrangement on Cotabato City would depend on how the BTA performs and how its relations with the Bangsamoro government will evolve,” he said.
Bacani added that supporter will face a common challenge of “preserving the gains Cotabato City has achieved and continuing its trajectory of economic and stability under the Bangsamoro.”
Election spokesman James Jimenez said the National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers will convene on January 24 at 2 p.m. (With reports from Zea C. Capistrano)