Supreme Court upholds inclusion of Cotabato City in Bangsamoro region

Map of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in relation to Mindanao. BARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur and Lanao del Sur in the mainland and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato and 63 villages in six North Cotabato towns that voted for inclusion in the BARMM in February 2019. Map courtesy of the BARMM website.

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 12 January) – The Supreme Court En Banc has upheld the inclusion of Cotabato City in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The ruling was made last January 10 but made public only today, Thursday.

During the plebiscite on January 21, 2019 for the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, majority of the voters in Cotabato City, then a part of Soccsksargen or Region 12, voted yes to be part of the new Bangsamoro region.

Based on the Certificate of Canvass of Votes, 38,682 individuals voted in favor of the inclusion while 24,994 voted against it.

However, on February 28, 2019, Amil Sula, Gaspar Asi and Hussein Malik, Sr. filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking a temporary restraining order against the Commission on Elections.

The petitioners questioned the conduct of the plebiscite, the inclusion of Cotabato City to the BARMM and the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

In a statement, the SC Public Information Office (PIO) announced Thursday that the High Tribunal, in an en banc session last January 10, has upheld the inclusion of Cotabato City to the Bangsamoro region.

“In dismissing the petition, the Supreme Court ruled that the Commission on Elections complied with the requirements of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in conducting a plebiscite,” it said.

“The decision emphasized the constitutional mandate of the Commission to guarantee the proper exercise of the right of suffrage which the Supreme Court will not interfere with if there is no grave abuse of discretion,” it added.

The Supreme Court found that the petitioners failed to substantiate with the necessary evidence their allegation of fraud in the conduct of the plebiscite.

“The mere allegation that the inclusion of Cotabato City in the newly-formed (BARMM) was not the true intention of the voters of Cotabato City will not persuade this Court to overturn the actions of the Commission on Elections,” the decision stated.

The Supreme Court PIO said the vote was unanimous. Two justices took no part and one was on leave. There were no dissenting votes.

The full copy of the decision (G.R. No. 244587) was not yet available as of posting.

The creation of the Bangsamoro region was the key component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in 2014 after 17 years of peace negotiations.

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the interim parliament that governs the Bangsamoro region, is led by the MILF, with 41 of the 80 seats.MILF chair Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim has been designated the Interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro parliament.

Minister of the Interior and Local Government Naguib Sinarimbo, also the BARMM spokesperson, said they welcome the High Tribunal’s ruling.

“We are happy that the SC affirmed the popular will of our people,” he said in a private message. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)