On Wednesday, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of both provinces held its first joint session here that decided on the status quo as third party agencies and provincial representatives would conduct the boundary survey.
Both chambers also agreed to increase the budget for the survey from P500,000 to P1 million factoring in inflation. They filed a joint resolution asking the Armed Forces of the Philippines to increase security in the disputed areas by putting up a task force.
North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol told MindaNews they will also jointly
increase "government presence" in the area to flow in more development
Piñol, then on his first term as North Cotabato Governor, signed a memorandum of agreement in June 1999 with then Bukidnon Gov. Carlos Fortich to resolve the political boundary conflict with the survey.
The survey would prioritize the Kadingilan (Bukidnon) – Carmen (North Cotabato) side of boundary dispute. The other disputed areas include the Kitaotao (Bukidnon) – Arakan (North Cotabato) and the Damulog (Bukidnon) – President Roxas (North Cotabato).
But nothing has since been heard of the survey, said lawyer Roland Deticio, who chairs the Bukidnon provincial board's committee on laws.
Deticio said communist rebels and outlaws have taken advantage of the disputes by using the area as a "haven.”
He said that was why they were seeking more "military presence" in the area to improve peace and order ahead of "more development projects".
Both chambers decided to hold another joint session in Kidapawan City as soon as the AFP gives an official response to the joint resolution, Deticio said.
Piñol and Bukidnon Vice Gov. Alex Calingasan presided over the joint session initiated by the North Cotabato SP nine years after the MOA was signed.
Piñol considered the initial agreements as a "landmark" achievement in the long- standing boundary disputes dating as far back in the creation in 1956 of the Municipality of Carmen, one of at least seven towns on both sides of the row.
But it has yet to be decided if both provinces would consider as final the plotting of boundary lines by a neutral agency such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Among the contentious issues that remained in the disputes included a decision on whether to use the Administrative Code as amended by Executive Order 73 or the Republic Acts creating the municipalities situated along the boundary disputes.
Both provinces also have border disputes with Davao City. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)