MANILA - Forcing the city of Cotabato to join the Bangsamoro region up for plebiscite at this time would only result in bitterness in the south, an analyst from a Cotabato-based think tank said Friday.
Fr. Eliseo Mercado, policy adviser at the Cotabato-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said their think tank believes the city will be part of the region "in the future, but many don’t accept that because you cannot force the issue at this particular time."
"Once they see, the people of Cotabato, good governance, the benefits of Republic Act 11054 or when they see all these things, it will come naturally," he told ANC's Early Edition, referring to the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
"But if you force the issue, it will just create that kind of division, that kind of bitterness—not only that, but also rejection, which is very bad. That means the trust, the friendship built through the years will be destroyed," he said.
The BOL, one of the requirements under a 2014 peace agreement between the government and the MILF, seeks to install a Bangsamoro political entity in place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The measure is up for plebiscite on two dates as set by the Commission on Elections – January 21 and February 6.
Cotabato City, which currently houses the office of the ARMM, is considered the “crown jewel” of the new Bangsamoro region because of its history and location.
But Mercado said the Bangsamoro autonomous region would do just well even if Cotabato City or Isabela City in Basilan, both of which are home to many Catholics, do not join.
"You don’t put your future, your stake on the inclusion of Cotabato City or Isabela City. The BARMM can go on and can fly even without them because the law is good and it stands on its own," he said.
Cotabato City was recently rocked by an explosion at a department store that killed at least 2, and Mercado advises against "finger-pointing" at who could be behind the blast because this would only lead to "animosity" among the people.