Lobregat to gov’t peace panel: Don’t include Zambo in autonomous region

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/12 May) – Zamboanga City will always opt out of the autonomous region in any form or name, Mayor Celso Lobregat vowed to tell Malacañang officials and members of the government peace panel when they are expected to meet next week.

The meeting will also be attended by Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde and members of the city council as requested by the government peace panel.

Lobregat said he will bring the residents’ sentiments, as voiced out in their overwhelming “no” votes in the 1989 and 2001 plebiscites, to the attention of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) the peace panel in their May 17 meeting.

The first plebiscite was held to determine which among the Mindanao provinces and cities wanted to be part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which was created by virtue of Republic Act 6734 that was enacted in 1989. The second was when Republic Act 9054 was enacted into a law expanding the coverage of the ARMM.

“We will never stop in letting them know about the city’s stand on the peace talks issue,” Lobregat said.

Lobregat said he received reports that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panel has been persistent in its attempt to include some parts of Zamboanga City in the so-called Mindanao sub-state, which is said to be one of the contents of the draft agreement submitted to the government peace panel for consideration.

He said, too, that he has been informed that most of the provisions of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008, are again included in the draft agreement prepared by the MILF.

“We are opposed to this proposal and the people have spoken in several plebiscites. We will reiterate and make our stand very clear,” Lobregat said.

In 2008, Zamboanga City, under Lobregat’s leadership and with the support of Representatives Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar (1st Dist.) and Erico Basilio Fabian (2nd Dist.) and the members of the city council, went to the Supreme Court together with other local government units opposed to their inclusion in the MOA-AD, to petition for the declaration of the agreement as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the petitioners, and war broke out in many parts of Mindanao, eventually displacing almost 700,000 people, according to figures from the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Lobregat said he will also propose to the government panel and the OPAPP the conduct of a citywide consultation regarding the renewed peace talks with the MILF.

He cautioned residents to remain very vigilant about attempts to divide Zamboanga City because some people or groups might take the opportunity to pursue their plans to break up the city.

“We are for peace, we want a long, just and lasting peace but we have stated our position that Zamboanga City does not want to be part of the ARMM in whatever name or whatever form,” he stressed.

Lobregat also told the International Monitoring Team (IMT) members, who paid him a courtesy visit Wednesday afternoon at city hall, about this city’s consistent stand on the peace process.

A new set IMT monitors arrived in the city last March and are now holding office at Camp Navarro, which houses the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) in Barangay Upper Calarian, west of this city. (MindaNews)