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COMMENT: Cotabato City: YES or NO to BOL?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 19 January) – A January 17, 2019 MinDaNews photo by Mamman Dejeto (No to BOL inclusion. No to Fake Promise) tells all. It’s “No’ for Cotabato City” on Monday, January 21, when the five provinces and four cities composing the geographical area of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao vote in a plebiscite to ratify Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law. The photo tells one reason for the “NO”.

This was before President Rodrigo R. Duterte pitched for YES at a “Peace Assembly” in Cotabato City yesterday, January 18, with MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman who spoke before him doing the same pitch. Will the city still vote NO on Monday?

As reported by Rappler.com (January 18, 2019), he exhorted the Cotabateños: “Let us forget the bitterness of the past and look forward to the future. Which means ladies and gentlemen, mga mahal kong mga Moro brother or sister, magboto kayo ng ‘yes,’ (to my beloved Moro brother or sister, vote, ‘yes’)”.

He added a joke, “‘Pag hindi, ‘di ako magpunta dito kailanman (If you don’t, I will never go back here).”

If the thunderous applause of his audience were the gauge, the city’s vote could be YES. Of course, it should be asked: “Who were in the audience?” Rappler did not mention the presence of staunch NO-Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi (popularly, Mayor Guiani).

The Mayor’s Stand

Cotabato City is administratively under Region XII. As a component city and a part of the first congressional district of Maguindanao, it is located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. More than that, it has been the tentative seat of the ARMM since its establishment in 1989. The NO-stand of the city for Monday’s plebiscite, first reported by ABS-CBN News last July 28 and 30, is a reiteration of its NO-Vote for RA No. 6734 in the 1989 plebiscite and, again, in 2001for RA No. 9054.

That ABS-CBN News report quoted Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF Implementing Panel, “We will overcome all obstacles because for the MILF, there is no other option except Cotabato City must be delivered. Insha Allah (God willing)”. He described the city as a “crown jewel” to emphasize its importance as the seat of Bangsamoro.

By joining Bangsamoro, he said,Cotabato City would share in the many benefits the new Bangsamoro law (now BOL) would bring, citing as one the block grant then estimated at P60 billion to P80 billion in annually. He could not imagine the city rejecting BOL.

To this, Mayor Guiani retorted that Cotabato City can thrive, even without partaking of the P80-billion annual grant under the proposed Bangsamoro region.

The issue

By voting NO Cotabato City will be outside of the administrative jurisdiction — so not a part — of Bangsamoro. As it has thrived as not a part of ARMM, it is assumed that it will continue to do so without joining Bangsamoro. Is this true? Has the city really been thriving without ARMM? Will it continue doing so without Bangsamoro? These the city voters must consider seriously.

Mayor Guiani contends: “A vote for the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law is a question of credibility. How credible are the proponents of the BOL in bringing about peace, progress, development to Cotabato City?” Tersely stated in the picture above,NO to Fake Promises!

She said, “You’re adding unemployment to my city,” referring to around 6,000 ARMM employees she warned would lose their jobs during the transition period of Bangsamoro government.

Misleading Assumptions?

Mayor Guiani and the Cotabteños must be sure they are not being misled by wrong assumptions. The mayor’s unemployment issue proves that the ARMM has been giving employment to city residents. What if Bangsamoro transfers its seat? The only assurance is for the city to join Bangsamoro to remain its seat.

The mayor questions the credibility of the BOL proponents (including the President) to make good their promise that Bangsamoro will bring “peace, progress, development to Cotabato City” if the city joins Bangsamoro. This doubt might have been based on the fact that the ARMM has not brought to its constituent provinces, cities and municipalities the same peace, progress and development Cotabato City has been enjoying.

How has the city attained its peace, progress and development? Certainly, it’s not through interaction and coexistence with the constituencies of Region XII. It’s the ARMM PNP Command not Region XII that assists the city police. It’s Maguindanao and ARMM not Region XII that do more trade and commerce with the city.

Reason for Joining

Mayor Guiani told ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel): “Naniniwala ako kahit ano pa ang ibigay mong development, if the leader –‘yung talagang ulo ng Cotabato City will not move, wala ring mangyayari. But even with meager resources, kayang pausbungin ang ekonomiya ng Cotabato City,”

While she was patting her own back, she was right. No matter how much development assistance is given to Cotabato City, if the mayor does not make the right move, nothing will happen. “Even with meager resources, we can make the economy of the city grow.”

Mayor Guiani stated the argument in favor of joining Bangsamoro. Good leaders are imperative to Cotabato City; so it is for Bangsamoro.

Cotabato City must join Bangsamoro primarily not for what it can get from Bangsamoro but for what it can give. Bangsamoro will need good leaders to carry out its mandated mission. These the city can provide. Instead of just being bystanders benefitting from fallouts, Mayor Guiani and other city leaders will be active participants in the Parliament and the Ministries.

Cotabato City will progress more as seat of Bangsamoro than as an isolated constituent of Region XII.

Will Mayor Guiani heed the appeal of President Duterte? If she does, the city will surely vote YES. If not, who will the city voters follow, President Duterte or Mayor Guiani? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patricio P. Diaz was editor in chief Mindanao Cross and later Mindanao Kris in Cotabato City. He is now based in General Santos City)

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