ZAMBOANGA CITY: Members of the 15-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission headed by Mohagher Iqbal, the chief Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace negotiator, held a dialogue on Thursday in Sulu where locals warmly welcomed the group—a far cry from insults they faced in Zamboanga City.
Abdullah Cusain, head of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s communication group, told The Manila Times that provincial officials led by Gov. Totoh Tan welcomed them to Sulu, one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Min–danao (ARMM).
Cusain said Iqbal’s group briefed Tan, his father, Vice Gov. Sakur Tan and other officials on the progress of the peace process and various issues related to the peace talks between the national government and the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.
Reps. Maryam Arbison and Tupay Loong of Sulu and town mayors joined the dialogue in the indoor amphitheater of the Area Coordinating Center.
But not all Tausugs support the new Bangsamoro region although many of them wanted the 1996 peace deal between Manila and the rival Moro National Liberation Front under Nur Misuari fully implemented.
Misuari’s group is also opposing the government talks with the MILF because a peace accord between them would violate the government peace agreement with the MNLF.
Others wanted Sulu to separate from the autonomous region or be part of the new Bangsamoro region since development pro–jects were not equally distributed among the provinces. Still others believed Sulu belonged solely to the Tausug tribe just as the Samal belonged to Tawi-Tawi and the Yakan to Basilan—and all run their own affairs or even posited a separate autonomous region for the three provinces.
In Zamboanga, Iqbal’s group was booed and insulted by residents opposed to the inclusion of the city in the proposed Bangsamoro region. Iqbal countered that Zamboanga was not even included in the new Muslim autonomy.
During a forum requested by Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar, a BTC member, lawyer Akmad Sakkam, asked those present to join the Bangsamoro region, a comment that sparked a heated debate during which many walked out.
On the other hand, Rep. Lilia Nuño of Zamboanga City has openly supported the peace process and said the peace deal between government and MILF would bring prosperity not only to Zamboanga, but to the whole of Mindanao.
She said Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks, had immediately pledged P20 billion for Bangsamoro areas after the signing of the Annex on Normalization by peace negotiators.
“Even if we are not part of Bangsamoro but we would still benefit because Zamboanga City is the center of business in the region. All the trade and commerce will still come to our city,” Nuño was quoted as saying.