674,343 voters in Lanao Norte, North Cot decide on BARMM inclusion on Feb 6

PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 05 February) – A total of 674,343 registered voters in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato will troop to the polls on Wednesday, February 6, to decide on the proposed inclusion of six Lanao del Norte towns and 67 barangays in North Cotabato in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Rajah Muda barangay captain Ting Pananggilan describes the February 6 plebiscite as “pinakamalaking araw sa amin” (most important day for us) and “sobra pa sa pista” (more than just a feast.”

Barangay captain Ting Pananggilan of Rajah Muda in Pikit, North Cotabato, describes to MindaNews on February 5, 2019 that the February 6 plebiscite is the “pinakamalaking araw sa amin” (most important day for us) as it signifies the coming of peace in this village that served as battleground between the Moro ISlamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government forces for decades. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“Nagpapasalamat kami sa pagkaroon ng kapayapaan na matagal na naming inaantay” (We are grateful that the peace that we have long been waiting for is now here), Pananggilan told MindaNews on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s plebiscite is a study in contrast: while the provincial and municipal officials of North Cotabato campaigned for a “yes” vote, Lanao del Norte’s officials campaigned for a “no” vote.

The six predominantly Muslim towns in Lanao del Norte – Balo-I, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangcal – and 39 predominantly Muslim villages in the towns of Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigcawayan and Pikit, voted “yes” in the August 14, 2001 plebiscite, for inclusion in the supposed expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The towns are contiguous to Lanao del Sur while the North Cotabato barangays are mostly contiguous to Maguindanao.

But the six towns remained with their mother units even as RA 9054 which amended RA 6734 and was supposed to be the enabling law of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), provides that “Congress may by law …. provide that clusters of contiguous-Muslim-dominated municipalities voting in favor of autonomy be merged and constituted into a new province(s) which shall become part of the new Autonomous Region.”

In the 1989 plebiscite to ratify RA 6734, the Organic Act creating the ARMM, only four provinces voted for inclusion: Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. In the 2001 plebiscite to ratify RA 9054, Marawi City and Basilan except Isabela City, joined the ARMM. Lamitan in Basilan became the second ARMM city when it was converted into a city in June 2007.

In the January 21, 2019 plebiscite to ratify RA 11054, the enabling law of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Commission on Elections proclaimed on January 25 that the BARMM will have as its core territory the ARMM and Cotabato City. The results of the February 6 plebiscite will determine the final territorial jurisdiction of the BARMM.

North Cotabato 2008 – 2018

In North Cotabato, the Commission on Elections approved last month the petition of 28 more barangays for inclusion in the BARMM, making the total number proposed for inclusion at 67, including one in Tulunan town.

Overall, the villages that are proposed to be part of the BARMM territory are four out of 19 barangays in Aleosan; seven of 28 in Carmen; seven of 24 in Kabacan; 13 of 57 in Midsayap; 12 of 40 in Pigkawayan; 23 of 42 in Pikit; and one of 29 in Tulunan.

Infographics by KEITH BACONGCO

In both Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato, the law provides that even as they vote “yes” to inclusion, they can be part of the BARMM only with the consent of their mother units, the province for the six Lanao del Norte towns and their respective municipalities in the case of North Cotabato.

A total of 352,494 voters from 22 towns in Lanao del Norte will decide on the inclusion of the six towns whose voters account for 67,182. In North Cotabato, a total of 321,849 voters in seven towns will decide on the inclusion of the 67 villages. The entire North Cotabato province of 17 towns and one city has 773,291 voters but only the seven towns will decide on the proposed inclusion.

A decade ago, the province of North Cotabato petitioned the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order to stop government negotiators from signing on August 5, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), claiming no consultations were done on their inclusion in what was then referred to as the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

The MOA-AD was initialed on July 27, 2008. No signing took place in Kuala Lumpur as the Supreme Court issued a TRO on August 4.

In October that same year, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 8-7, declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional but noted that “surely, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one will be drawn up to carry out the Ancestral Domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, in another or in any form, which could contain similar or significantly drastic provisions.”

The aborted signing of the MOA-AD led to yet another cycle of war, displacing at least half a million residents.

It took nearly a year before the warring forces ceased firing: government ordered a suspension of military operations on July 23, 2009 and the MILF ordered suspension of military action two days later. But the peace panels managed to meet only in December that year.

The Arroyo administration ended on June 30, 2010 with no peace agreement signed. Under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the government and MILF peace panels signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on October 15, 2012 and the CAB on March 27, 2014.

The next step was supposed to have been the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would have been the enabling law to implement the peace agreement and pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM.

The BBL, however, was not passed under the Aquino administration, its fate doomed by the January 25, 2015 tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that left 66 persons dead – 44 members of the elite police unit, Special Action Forces; 17 from the MILF and five civilians.

A child smiles shyly as he watches over watermelons for sale on board a pick-up truck in Barangay Rajah Muda in Pikit, North Cotabato on February 5, 2019. Elders in the village –children of war before — are optimistic that in voting “yes” on February 6 for inclusion of their village in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, no child in the village will ever experience wars and displacements as they did. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

When the Duterte administration took over on June 30, 2016, it set forth a peace agenda that would include the drafting of yet another version of the BBL by an expanded (from 15 to 21) Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

The substitute bill to the BTC-drafted bill is what is now RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM.

President Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s 16th President and first Mindanawon to lead the nation, signed the law on July 27, 2018, exactly 10 years to the day the peace panels of the government and MILF initialed the MOA-AD in Kuala Lumpur. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)