Cotabato City mayoral race underlines battle for Bangsamoro law

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 08 2018 03:31 PM

Reelectionist Cotabato City Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi and her challenger, Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema. ABS-CBN News/File photos

MANILA -- The mayoral race in Cotabato City—seen as the “crown jewel” of a new autonomous region in the south—will pit 2 contenders with diametric positions on the law creating an expanded Bangsamoro territory.

Incumbent Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi on Thursday expressed reservations over the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), predicting that residents would reject it during the plebiscite on Jan. 21 next year.

But Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, who is running for mayor, is pushing hard for the BOL, saying it would turn the city into a “gateway for more investments.”

The new law will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with an expanded territory for the Bangsamoro, including an estimated block grant of around P70 billion and other resources.

A Mindanao scholar said the results of the plebiscite in Cotabato City could indicate the outcome of the mayoral election, particularly for Guiani.

“Sa totoo lang, kung panalo na sa January ang ‘no’ sa BOL, sigurado nang panalo si Cynthia. Siguradong-siguradong panalo na si Cynthia sa May election,” said Fr. Eliseo Mercado, a senior policy adviser of the Cotabato City-based think tank, Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG).

(To tell you the truth, if a no vote on the BOL wins in January, Cynthia's victory in the May elections is sure.)

But a victory for the new law, he said, would not necessarily translate to a win for Sema, who was described as an “underdog.”

Mercado said Guiani also enjoyed support from residents, who were also in favor of the BOL.

CROWN JEWEL

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front official earlier said the group would campaign hard to convince Cotabato City to approve the BOL and join the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

“It will not win in Cotabato City,” Guiani told ABS-CBN News.

IAG executive director Benedicto Bacani earlier described the city as a possible “crown jewel” of the new Bangsamoro region.

The regional office of the present ARMM is located in Cotabato City, which is not part of the autonomous region.

Plebiscites will also be held in 6 towns in Lanao del Norte, 39 barangays in North Cotabato, and Isabela City in Basilan.

A total of 62 petitions representing communities contiguous to the proposed Bangsamoro territory were also filed for possible inclusion in the new region.

Part of Sema’s campaign pitch is the promise to turn Cotabato City into a “premier city” where “employment and infrastructure will pour in.”

“Now that the BOL is here and with the block grant for development, we in the city should not lose this opportunity,” she told ABS-CBN News.

SECOND OPTION?

But Sema is also facing a petition from Guiani, who asked the Commission on Elections to reject the legislator’s certificate of candidacy for mayor.

Guiani alleged that Sema failed to meet the required residency of at least 1 year, describing her as an “outsider.”

Sema “lacked the intention to abandon her residence in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao,” according to a copy of the petition obtained by ABS-CBN News.

Guiani also claimed Sema had planned to run for Maguindanao governor but opted to go for the Cotabato City mayoralty as a “second option.”

“Anybody can speculate, including the mayor, but at the end of the day, the filing of the COC is the material conclusion,” Sema said, adding she “was born, studied, married and settled” in the city.”