Should Zamboanga City join Bangsamoro?

by Queenie Casimiro, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga

Posted at Mar 26 2014 11:22 PM | Updated as of Mar 27 2014 07:22 AM

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- The signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on Thursday is making Zamboanga City officials emotional.

Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar in her weekly press conference reiterated her support for the peace process.

However, she said Zamboanga City, its 98 component barangays and its municipal waters "should not, would not, and will never be included in the Bangsamoro."

Climaco said the city has already made its stand clear to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) during the Bangsamoro Transition Commission consultation held in the city earlier.

Some participants in the forum walked out of the function hall after a member of the commission invited Zamboanga City to be part of the Bangsamoro entity.

Climaco said, quoting Fr. Chris Manongas, "we will never allow them to take Zamboanga City." Climaco reiterated her call to the Zamboanguenios to remain "united under one flag, under one republic of the Philippines."

Businessman Edwin To, president of the Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said businessmen in the city are adopting a wait-and-see attitude about the signing of the CAB.

He said there is a sense of uncertainty, "and for businessmen, uncertainty is risky."

He, however, said the city and its constituents should be open-minded about the issue. "We have to engage the government, engage OPAPP, do our own research and see for ourselves what this agreement may bring."

Peace advocates in the south, meanwhile, are in a celebratory mood.

Grace Rebollos, former president of a state-run university said this is what they have been waiting and praying for for more than a decade now.

Rebollos said they respect and understand the position of some government officials who are expressively opposing the possible inclusion of the City of Zamboanga in the Bangsamoro.

"It is understandable especially after what Zamboanga City went through last year," Rebollos said, referring to the bloody siege staged by the Moro National Liberation Front in September.

Italian priest Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra has been working for peace in Mindanao for over a decade now.

He welcomes tomorrow's signing of the CAB as a sign that peace may finally set in in the south.

Both peace advocates believe Zamboanga City is better off to remain out of the Bangsamoro, but the Zamboanguenios should accept that the city will play an important role in the new government.

"Zamboanga will be the center of commerce, of transportation of people going to the Bangsamoro areas and to Manila. We are at the crossroads," Rebollos said.

Fr. D'Ambra also said Zamboanga City, due to its strategic location, shall be the recipient of the commercial activities in the new ARMM since people from the Bangsamoro will be coming to and from the city.

If peace settles in in Bangsamoro, Zamboanga City will also be more peaceful.