By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The House Committee on Local Government has started deliberations on bills creating two provinces that will be carved out of Maguindanao, and will likely endorse the measures for plenary discussion “in few weeks from now,” one of proponents said on February 14, Friday.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Noel Villanueva of Tarlac, has even approved the measure on first reading last Tuesday, according to Maguindanao second district Rep. Esmael Mangundadatu.
Mangadudatu is the main author of House Bill 3405, seeking to create Southern Maguindanao. His counterpart in the first district, Rep. Ronie Q. Sinsuat, sponsors House Bill 4840 to establish Northen Maguindanao.
Majority of Maguindanao mayors and board members, led by incumbent Governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu and Vice Governor Lester Sinsuat, attended Tuesday’s committee hearing.
“The committee is expected to hold its second and third hearings in few weeks from now. It will likely make its report eventually for the plenary deliberation of our bills,” Rep. Mangudadatu said.
Mangudadatu, a former three-term Maguindanao governor, said he was confident the plenary approval may be realized within this year.
In the Senate, he said, Senators Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Cynthia Villar were the sponsors of counterpart bills.
Magundanao, tagged in national statistics as one of the 10 poorest provinces in the country, has a total land area of 9,729.04 square kilometers with a population of 1,173,933 as of 2015 census, according to Wikipedia. It comprises 36 municipalities, with Buluan as its present capital town.
“Logically, the smaller the area to manage, the more focused and faster growth to happen,” Mangudadatu said.
The proposed Northern Maguindanao will be composed of 12 towns, namely Datu Odin Sinsuat, Datu Blah Sinsuat, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, Talitay, North Upi, Mother Kabuntalan, Northern Kabuntalan, Matanog, Parang, Buldon and Barira. Datu Odin Sinsuat is being eyed as the capital of the province.
Southern Maguindanao, on the other hand, is being proposed to cover 24 smaller towns, namely Ampatuan, Buluan, Datu Abdullah Sangki, Anggal Mistimbang, Hoffer Ampatuan, Montawal, Datu Paglas, Datu Piang, Datu Unsay, Salibo, Saudi Ampatuan, Salipada Pendatun, Guindulungan, Mamasapano, Mangudadatu, Pagalungan, Paglat, Pandag, Rajah Buayan, Shariff Aguak, Saydona Mustapha, South Upi, Sultan-sa-Barongis, and Talayan.
Buluan, the present provincial capital town, will be retained as seat of Southern Maguindanao.
Officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are reportedly supportive of the proposed split of Maguindanao, saying the proposal would not only draw more focused government attention but also abate intense provincial political rivalries. Maguindanao is presently the votes-richest province in the region.