ZAMBOANGA City: Local leaders here do not want their city to be part of the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) under the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco was emphatic on the city’s exclusion during the public hearing on BBL held at the Zamboanga City State Polytechnic College gymnasium.
“The city should never form part nor be included in the Bangsamoro, now or ever,” Climaco told the seven senators and some members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which crafted the BBL. “Neither its 98 component barangays nor any part, zone, sitio thereof should ever be included in the Bangsamoro, now or ever,” she added.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on BBL, conducted the 10th public hearing here amid concerns by most Zamboanga City residents that their city would be included in the BAR.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd as well as senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Risa Hontiveros, and Cynthia Villar also attended the forum to get the pulse of the residents.
The BBL aims to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and replace it with BAR with more powers.
“We expect the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass a BBL which is consistent and harmonious with and not contrary to the 1987 Constitution, a law that truly addresses grievances that bring about secession and armed conflicts in the Southern Philippines and not for mere appeasement,” Climaco said.
The BTC and the senators repeatedly said the BBL would be “the answer” to decades-old conflict in Mindanao and address the economic and political injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.
Climaco said Congress must pass a law that “treats every Mindanaoan on even keel; a law that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”
“We the people of Zamboanga City had consistently rejected the inclusion of the city in the ARMM,” she stressed.
In the 1989 plebiscite, 90,152 voted against the city’s inclusion in the ARMM while 5,299 voted in favor. In the 2001 plebiscite, “an overwhelming 112,735 voted against (membership to the ARMM) compared to only 5,849 who favored for inclusion,” the mayor said.
“In 2008, the City of Zamboanga was also in the forefront against the city and any of its component barangay’s inclusion in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) which would have been created by the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that was declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional and contrary to law. This stand has never wavered,” she added.
In a position paper that she submitted to the committee, Climaco said the municipal waters of the city as defined under the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 or Republic Act 8550 and delineated in the Fisheries Ordinance of the City of Zamboanga should “continue to remain as the municipal waters of the city without alteration on its territorial boundaries — for the management, conservation, development protection, utilization and disposition of all fish and fishery/aquatic resources of its local fisherfolk.”
“The commercial fishing industry must have free access to the deep-sea fishing governed only by existing regulations of the national government, not by the Bangsamoro,” she said.
Zubiri rejected the proposal of some Sulu leaders to include an “opt-out” provision in the BBL.
The local leaders hinted at not joining the BAR because they are not sure if he BBL will be a success.
The ARMM is composed of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi as well as the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.
Under the BBL, the core territory of BAR would be composed of the present geographical area of ARMM, areas that voted inclusion in ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite such as the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte as well as the 39 barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap, the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, and other contiguous areas where there is resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10 percent of the registered voters in the area asking for their inclusion.
“If we will have an opt out provision it will be a step backward to peace,” Zubiri said.
“Imagine if we put an opt out provision, Tawi-tawi, Basilan, Maguindanao and Lanao will remain with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and then Sulu would not be part of it.”
The BBL aims to give the future Bangsamoro greater fiscal autonomy through appropriate funding mechanisms to allow it to become self-sufficient, as well as to enable it to adequately exercise its powers and functions consistent with the principles of autonomy.
“So, kailangan nila (Sulu leaders) pumunta uli sa Manila para humingi ng pondo (So, they need to go to Manila to ask for funds),” said Zubiri.
“I promise you, as the sun will rise tom that will be the largest ‘hotbed’ of extremism in the region,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ghazali Jaafar, chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), appealed to fellow Muslims to be patient in their bid for autonomy.
“To my Muslim brothers and sisters, I appeal for your patience. Please wait a little more because the BBL discussion is going smoothly,” Jaafar told local leaders and residents in Basilan.
“Our senators have vowed to pass the BBL. And most importantly, our President have already decided that the proposed BBL has to be passed into law,” he said.
Zubiri said he would be ready to submit a committee report on February 13 as the Senate’s “Valentine” gift to the Bangsamoro people.
He is optimistic that the Senate would pass the BBL on third and final reading before March 22.
The President has assured the Bangsamoro people that passage of the BBL is one of his administration’s priorities.
he President sent his message through Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza.
“I extend to you the President’s assurance that we will prioritize the BBL,” Dureza said.
“Do not think that this BBL is like an electric bulb that you can switch on. We still have a long way to go. The law is not perfect. If the people would not cooperate, nothing will happen,” he added.