By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The 63 villages (barangays) in six North Cotabato towns that opted for autonomy will be placed under the official supervision of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) this coming Nov. 20.
The corresponding turnover rites will be held at the regular session of the Bangsamoro parliament on Wednesday based on bilateral arrangements between the regional leadership and the officialdom of North Cotabato, said BARMM spokesman and Minister of Local Government Naguib Sinarimbo.
At the “Kapehan sa Bangsamoro” weekly media forum here last Tuesday, Sinarimbo said the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of North Cotabato had passed a resolution conveying readiness to turn over the 63 villages, prompting the regional parliament to set the ceremonial takeover on Nov. 20.
The date of ceremony is one day short of the official return to office of North Cotabato Gov. Nancy Catamco from a 90-day preventive suspension imposed by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Catamco’s suspension, which began on Aug. 21 and ends on Nov. 21, was ordered by the Sandiganbayan in its deliberation of the graft and malversation of public funds case in a fertilizer supply she transacted with eight co-accused officials in Poro, Cebu in 2014.
The controversial deal involved 3,333 bottles of Vitacrop liquid organic fertilizers priced at P1,500 each by Perzebros Company, a firm owned by Catamco and her ex-husband Pompey Reyes. State auditors reportedly found the fertilizer was overpriced by P1,092 per bottle.
In her petition for relief, Catamco had argued that she was then a trader, not connected with government, when the transaction was consummated. The Supreme Court has no jurisprudence yet on such a case like hers, she added.
On the Nov. 20 turnover ceremony, only Vice Gov. Emylou “Lala” Talino-Mendoza, serving as acting governor, and her provincial board members will be present, something that the regional parliament reportedly did not have prior knowledge.
Gov. Catamco, in a phone interview with the Manila Bulletin Wednesday morning, said BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Murad” Ebrahim and Minister Sinarimbo told her in separate calls that their presumption of her resumption of office would be on Nov. 20.
She said the two officials assured to host her in a separate occasion on a later date to discuss issues for the smooth administration of the 63 barangays under the regional autonomy.
Catamco said she found the BARMM officials’ explanation “rational” and that her absence in the turnover ceremony would be a blessing in disguise for her to visit command posts set up for more barangays in this city and nearby North Cotabato towns adversely affected by the series of recent earthquakes.
“Even if my formal office resumption falls on Nov. 20, I think it would be awkward for my people to see me preferring a turnover ceremony over their plight in the aftermath of the Oct. 16, 29, and 31 earthquakes,” Catamco said.
Meanwhile, Minister Sinarimbo said the 63 autonomy-opting barangays from Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan and Pikit in North Cotabato will serve as a special geographical area to be managed by an administrator appointed by Chief Minister Ebrahim.