MILF wants 'crown jewel' Cotabato City in new Bangsamoro region

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 28 2018 03:52 PM | Updated as of Jul 28 2018 04:11 PM

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani says residents will vote against joining the new Bangsamoro region if a plebiscite were held today. ABS-CBN News

COTABATO CITY - Residents of this bustling city will vote against joining a new autonomous region for the Bangsamoro if a plebiscite were held today, its mayor said Saturday. 

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) official said his group would campaign hard to convince Cotabato City, which had twice refused to join the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

“We will overcome all obstacles because for the MILF, there is no other option except Cotabato City must be delivered. Insha Allah,” said Mohagher Iqbal, head of the MILF panel implementing its 2014 peace agreement with the government, describing the city as a “crown jewel.”

The Bangsamoro Organic Law, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, grants greater autonomy, power, and resources to a new region replacing the ARMM — part of a comprehensive approach to also prevent the rise of violent extremism in southern Philippines.

Mayor Cynthia Guiani of Cotabato City said she would respect the outcome of the plebiscite, but warned: “If elections or the plebiscite were held today, it would not win in Cotabato City.”

“Kung ano man 'yung lalabas sa plebisito, we really have to respect it kaso naniniwala ako no matter anong campaign mo sa residente ng Cotabato City, they have a mind of their own,” she told ABS-CBN News.

(Whatever comes out of the plebiscite, we really have to respect it but I believe that no matter how hard you campaign to residents of Cotabato City, they have a mind of their own.)

“What the people feel is different from what Manila people perceive.”

BLOCK GRANT

The outcome of the plebiscite will determine the scope of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s territory.

Aside from the 5 ARMM provinces at present, the new region is supposed to include Cotabato City, Isabela City in Basilan, 6 towns in Lanao del Norte, and 39 villages (barangay) in North Cotabato province.

“A vote for the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law is a question of credibility. How credible are the proponents of the BOL in bringing about peace, progress, development to Cotabato City?” Guiani said. 

Iqbal said the MILF’s credibility and popularity were “still there” having “sustained the struggle for 40 years.”

He said he could not imagine Cotabato City residents rejecting the new Bangsamoro law, citing benefits such as an estimated P60 billion to P80 billion in annual block grant to be released automatically by the national government.

“It’s very important emotionally that in terms of narrative, in terms of practicability... and the more the city would benefit from the situation if it would become part of the future Bangsamoro (region),” he said. 

ARMM EMPLOYEES

Guiani warned that around 6,000 ARMM employees stood to lose their jobs during the transition to the new Bangsamoro government. 

Though not part of the ARMM, Cotabato City is the site of the regional government and Guiani said residents could “sympathize” with their neighbors who would be rendered jobless.

“You’re adding unemployment to my city,” she said.

Iqbal said employees with civil service eligibility would remain while others such as political appointees would “have to go.”

“Necessarily, there will be a reshuffle,” said Iqbal, whose group will lead the Bangsamoro transition government until 2022. 

Catch the full interview with Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani on “Matters of Fact” on ANC’s Early Edition on July 30, 7:30 a.m.