MANILA (UPDATE) - A Senate panel on Monday approved a measure that seeks to divide Maguindanao into 2 provinces, to help the area "better" manage its resources.
Under House Bill No. 6413, Northern Maguindanao will have 12 municipalities, while 24 municipalities will be part of Southern Maguindanao. Under the law, all bills about local concerns - including the creation of new provinces and legislative districts - must originate from the House of Representatives before it can be tackled by the Senate.
"We want to finalize, to crystalize a long-promised bill," said Sen. Francis Tolentino, who chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government.
If passed into law, the 36 towns currently of Maguindanao will be divided as follows:
- Datu Odin Sinsuat (*proposed capital)
- Datu Blah Sinsuat
- Sultan Kudarat
- Sultan Mastura
- Kabuntalan Mother
- Northern Kabuntalan
- Datu Sumagka (formerly Talitay)
- Buluan (*proposed capital)
- Datu Paglas
- Datu Piang
- Shariff Aguak
- South Upi
- Sultan sa Barongis
- General S. K. Pendatun
-Datu Montawal (Pagagawan)
- Datu Saudi-Ampatuan
- Datu Unsay
- Datu Abdullah Sangki
- Rajah Buayan
- Datu Anggal Midtimbang (Talayan)
- Datu Hoffer Ampatuan
- Datu Salibo
- Shariff Saydona Mustapha
"The minor details will be threshed out in a technical working group," Tolentino said.
SEAT OF POWER ISSUE
The senator was referring to several contentious provisions in the bill, including the transfer of Southern Maguindanao's provincial capitol to Buluan town from Shariff Aguak.
Of the 24 municipalities in the proposed Southern Maguindanao province, only 3 areas are close to Buluan, while 18 others need to "cross regional boundaries" to reach it, said incumbent Maguindanao Gov. Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu.
"Shariff Aguak remains to be the nearest to the center of the province," she said at the Senate's hearing of the bill on Monday.
Maguindanao Rep. Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu rejected the proposal of the governor, who is the wife of his cousin, to retain the seat of power in Shariff Aguak, saying the area is too close to strongholds of armed groups.
"Napakaraming baril diyan sa lugar na 'yan kung saan naglulungga yung napakaraming extremist groups," he said.
(There are many loose firearms there because that's the stronghold of a lot of extremist groups.)
In 2009, Rep. Mangudadatu's wife, some of their relatives and supporters were massacred 10 kilometers away from Shariff Aguak, where they were supposed to file his certificate of candidacy for governor at the time, challenging the supremacy of the Ampatuan clan in the province.
That carnage, dubbed the Maguindanao Massacre, is now considered as the world's single worst politically-related attack on journalists after it killed 32 journalists who joined Mangudadatu's convoy to cover the filing of his candidacy.
Rep. Mangudadatu - the author of the House bill - is the former vice mayor of Buluan town, where he is pushing to have the capitol located.
But the incumbent governor said that Mangudadatu's concern about armed groups near Shariff Aguak gives them more reason to retain the seat of power there.
"'Yung sinasabi niya na doon namumuga, 'yun po ang dahilan na dapat makita ng sambayanan, lalo na sa lalawigan, na may gobyerno," Sangki-Mangudadatu said.
(If their stronghold is there, we have more reason to show the public, especially in the region, that the government is there.)
"'Wag natin ilayo ang gobyerno sa tao," she said.
(We should not move the government away from the people.)
RECOMMENDATION OF TEMPORARY OFFICIALS
Sangki-Mangudadatu also flagged a provision that would allow Congress to recommend temporary local government officials to supervise the new provinces, while leaders have yet to be elected.
Under the measure, if the law is approved at least a year before the 2022 presidential elections, the President may appoint members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, "upon the recommendation of the acting provincial governor and the incumbent representative of the first legislative district" of Maguindanao.
Maguindanao First District Rep. Datu Roonie Q. Sinsuat Sr. is a co-author of the bill.
"It is inappropriate, improper and baseless that representatives in the House have the prerogative to recommend to the President nominees for the vacancies," Sangki-Mangudadatu said.
The Commission on Elections, meanwhile, is asking lawmakers to extend the 60-day period of preparations for the plebiscite in relation to the measure, saying the COVID-19 pandemic may affect the agency's capacity to mount the polls.
Despite the issues, Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go said the bill needs to be passed into law as it is in accordance with President Rodrigo Duterte's promise to establish just and lasting peace in Mindanao.
"Napakalaki ng Maguindanao kaya nararapat lang na ma-divide ito para mas matutukan ang bawat munisipyo," he said.
(Maguindanao is so big that's why it needs to be divided so that the government can better focus on each municipality.)
The 5,691-square-kilometer Maguindanao passes all the law's requirements for it to be divided into 2 provinces, Tolentino said.
Under the law, an area may only be declared as a new province if it is at least 2,000-square kilometers in size, has at least 250,000 in terms of population, and receives a certification from the Department of Finance that it is capable of generating sufficient income to provide for its constituents.