Cotabato City likely to be the seat of BARMM

By Ali Macabalang

COTABATO CITY –Stakeholders here would like to see Cotabato City serve as the official seat of the R.A. 11054-prescribed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

BOL PLEBISCITE – A young Muslim woman assists her grandmother in casting her vote for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in Cotabato City on Monday, January 20, 2019. (Keith Bacongco) BOL PLEBISCITE – A young Muslim woman assists her grandmother in casting her vote for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in Cotabato City on Monday, January 20, 2019. (Keith Bacongco/ MANILA BULLETIN)

The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was overwhelmingly ratified by voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the January 21 plebiscite, during which the city electorate voted for inclusion.

The BOL ratification signaled the eventual establishment of BARMM in replacement of ARMM, which this city hosts as a “temporary seat” for more than 29 years now despite its electorate’s rejection twice of regional autonomy.

Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, representing Maguindanao’s 1st congressional district including this city, said she will file on Monday a bill naming this tri-people (Muslim-Christian-Lumad) community as the official seat of BARMM governance.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, former ARMM executive secretary and legal adviser to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), yesterday expressed agreement with the intention of Rep. Sema, one of BOL main authors in the House.

Sinarimbo hinted that the MILF leadership was also inclined to make this city the official BARMM host, it being the “crown jewel” of Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination.

The BOL prescribes the creation of a parliament headed by a chief minister to govern BARMM, and such body will likely push also for the designation of Cotabato City as official regional seat, he said.

On Wednesday, Malacañang expressed elation over the Cotabato City electorate’s approval for inclusion in BARMM.

“The sovereign people have spoken. Those who are against the BOL must yield to the rule of majority,” Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo was quoted as saying.

The Commission on Election’s official tally showed 36,682 “Yes” votes in this city, with 22,649 rejecting the BOL.

But City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who staunchly opposed the BOL, has vowed to file a formal petition to protest alleged cases of intimidation and irregularities in the January 21 plebiscite.

President Duterte visited the city two days before the plebiscite to pitch for BOL’s ratification. Local officials believed his physical campaign had turned the tide among dissenters, especially after the President threatened in jest to never return here if “no” votes would prevail.

The first plebiscite covered the entire ARMM - comprising Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur including Marawi City, Basilan including Lamitan City, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi – and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela (in Basilan).

Sulu, led by Gov. Sakur Tan II who authored one of two petitions questioning the constitutionality of BOL before the Supreme Court, yielded 152,493 dissenting votes against 137,891 approval votes.

But the decisive approval of vote-rich Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao (posted at over one million) complemented by Basilan and Tawi-Tawi’s affirmative votes overwhelmed Sulu’s rejection. BOL prescribes for a single regional votes’ computation for ARMM.

During Monday’s poll, Isabela City rejected inclusion in regional autonomy for the third time. It had rejected coverage by ARMM in the 1989 and 2001 plebiscites, during which Cotabato City also posted similar opposition.

Another plebiscite is set on Feb. 6 for Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato where six towns and 39 villages in six municipalities, respectively, voted for regional autonomy but were superseded by their dissenting provincial counts.

The next plebiscite will also cover more than 40 other barangays in Lanao del Norte whose petitions for inclusion in BARM were approved by the Comelec en banc.