ZAMBOANGA CITY - Officials of two cities in Mindanao rejected being part of the proposed Bangsamoro region’s territory, and opposed a provision in the Bangsamoro bill that allows areas outside the region’s core to be part of it.
At a hearing of the Senate committees on local government and peace on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said Zamboanga City has in the past thumbed down being part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which the Bangsamoro seeks to replace.
“The city of Zamboanga should never form part nor be included in the Bangsamoro now or ever,” Climaco said, eliciting applause from the audience.
“None of its 98 component barangays or any part, zone, sitio therefore should ever be included in the Bangsamoro now or ever.”
Councilor Ismael Musa, who represents indigenous peoples in Zamboanga’s city council, said various indigenous groups in the city also oppose joining the Bangsamoro.
“Let it be known that we stand united behind our Lumad, Christian, and Muslim brothers and sisters not to be part of the Bangsamoro,” Musa said.
Zamboanga is not part of the Bangsamoro’s proposed core territory. But its leaders are concerned about the BBL’s “opt-in” provision, which allows areas outside the Bangsamoro to join through a petition of 10 percent of their voters.
Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat said deleting the opt-in provision is among the 137 amendments to the BBL he will propose at the House of Representatives. Removing the provision is also among the recommendations of the citizens’ peace council on the BBL.
Isabela City, which is part of the proposed core territory of Bangsamoro, is also against being part of the region.
Speaking on behalf of the city’s residents, Leonardo Pioquinto said Isabela City’s voters have already voted against joining the ARMM at least twice in the past.
“They confiscated the voice of God and the voice of Allah from the people of Isabela who have expressed their will through scared ballots that they opt to stay out in the ARMM twice,” Pioquinto said, referring to Isabela’s inclusion in the proposed core territory. “This is the third time that they wanted Isabela to be included. One is enough, two is too much, third is already poisonous.”
Thursday’s hearing in Zamboanga saw various groups supporting and opposing the BBL making their voices heard on the controversial bill.
Professor Sharif Julabbi of the Bangsamoro Mujahideen Alliance said his group and others were not included in the process that led to the crafting of the BBL.
“We’re against the BBL. We’re not part of the BBL,” said Julabbi.
For the committee’s chairman, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., this proves the peace process was not inclusive as it only involved the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Lawyers from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ local chapter, meanwhile, cited what they believe are the BBL’s unconstitutional problems, including those that have to do with its parliamentary form of government, territory, and relationship with the national government.
There were also voices of support for the BBL. Zaldy Daranda of the Bangsamoro Network of Accountability and Solidarity said fears and concerns about the BBL are mostly unfounded.
“There is nothing to fear about the new political entity. There is nothing to worry about people’s desire to be part of it. The process of inclusion is very democratic,” said Daranda.
Daranda added that the Bangsamoro will not be another ARMM, whose provinces are among the poorest and least-developed in the country. The Aquino administration, which is pushing for the BBL, has called the ARMM a failed experiment.
Both the Iranon Sultanate League and the Bangsamoro Network for Accountability and Solidarity called on the committee not to water down the measure.
Marcos disagreed, however. “I cannot go with your plea that we do not change the draft BBL. There are simply too many problems with the draft BBL to leave it as it is,” he said.
One resident in Zamboanga was outspoken in his support for the BBL, speaking at the top of his lungs as he objected to the city government’s wish to be excluded from Bangsamoro.
“The voice of the city government is not the voice of the entire Zamboanga city. We have thousands of Bangsamoros in Zamboanga who will support the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” he said.
At one point in the hearing, Marcos interrupted another outspoken Bangsamoro bill supporter and called him out for accusing lawmakers who are closely scrutinizing the measure as being against it.
“This is the process of legislation … We do not exist as a rubberstamp for anyone,” he said.
“Kahit paano masakit pa rin ang inyong sinasabi dahil unang una hindi totoo (In a way, what you’re saying hurts because first of all that’s not true),” Marcos added. “To characterize our effort as anti-BBL is simply wrong. It is misplaced, and it is unfair.”