Bangsamoro territory in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato still up for debate

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Legislators in the bicameral conference committee are yet to decide the fate of 6 towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays (villages) in North Cotabato under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). 

Both the Senate and the House have opposing views on how these towns and villages would be included in the new Bangsamoro region.

On Monday, July 9, Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri said the bicam members agreed to postpone threshing out these differences.

“We're off to a good start. We finished 3 articles of the Bangsamoro Basic Law although we got bogged down by territorial jurisdiction. We decided to table it and defer action on it ’til a later time and agree on all the acceptable provisions,” Zubiri told reporters. 

This is among the BBL’s provisions that may raise constitutionality issues, he said.

The following 6 towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 villages in North Cotabato had voted to be included in ARMM during the 2001 plebsicite held under Republic Act No. 9054. But the areas did not become a part of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as their mother provinces opposed it:

In the Senate version of the BBL, the 39 villages and 6 municipalities will be automatically included in the Bangsamoro once their residents vote in favor of their inclusion in the plebiscite.

There would be no need to take into account the votes from other areas of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato, a proposal that some House members consider unconstitutional.

The House version wants the mother units of the said areas to decide on their fate. In the case of the 6 towns of Lanao del Norte, the whole province must vote whether or not they want the towns out of their jurisdiction. For the 39 barangays, the municipalities they belong to have the final say on their fate.

“With us [in the Senate], we allowed the 6 municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays of Cotabato to be part of the expanded area without the permission through plebiscite of the core territory. Some of our colleagues in the House are saying this is unconstitutional, but we believe under this law, we can justify its constitutionality,” said Zubiri.

Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairperson and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vice chairperson Ghazali Jaafar said they prefer the Senate’s proposal.

Their primary reason for pushing for the easier inclusion route? 

Jaafar said Moros have long been living in the 6 towns and 39 villages, anyway, even before the greater Cotabato province was divided into smaller provinces in the 1960s. 

Sapagkat sa 39 barangays na ‘yan, greater majority of the people residing there are Muslims. They are natives of the place… ’Yan ang traditional na lugar ng mga Moro, including the non-Muslim Moro in the region,” said Jaafar. 

(The greater majority of the people residing in the 39 barangays are Muslims. They are natives of the place... That's the traditional home of the Moro, including the non-Muslim Moro in the region.)

Kaya ‘yong mga taong nandoon ngayon, kung mabigyan man ng gobyerno ang mga Moro, kasama sila (That's why the people there are hoping they will be included should the government decide to grant a separate region for the Moro),” he added.

Jaafar explained the Muslim communities in these areas later became part of the decades-long struggle for independence. Several MILF camps are found in the said 6 towns and 39 barangays. 

They are expected to finalize the new version of the BBL by the end of the week. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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