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THINK TALK: Included But Excluded

mindaviews thinktalk

MATALAM, North Cotabato. (MindaNews / 04 March)

Here is the predicament of a people included but excluded.

In a plebiscite conducted on February 6, 2019 sixty-three (63) barangays in the Province of North Cotabato voted for inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). From then on, they had been waiting for what is in store for them. Will there be realignment of the geo-political subdivisions within the 63 barangays? Will the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) create municipalities, and probably a province, and install a system of local government units to facilitate supervision and governance of these areas?

As early as second quarter of 2021 the political leadership of the BARMM had been pushing for the extension of the BTA due to some unfinished mechanisms to be installed before transitioning to normal governmental operation. After several months of waiting, President Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11593 extending the transition period of the BARMM from 2022 to 2025. Under this law only the regional parliamentary election was postponed, which means, the eighty (80) elective positions for Members of the Regional Parliament. All local elective positions from the provinces, cities, and municipalities comprising the BARMM, except for the Special Geographic Areas (63 barangays from North Cotabato), shall be elected on May 9, 2022 by their respective constituents.

Then, came what would seem rushed preparations for the May 2022 national and local elections. People and politicians from the 63 barangays were not expecting anything unusual until the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) came out with a Resolution emphasizing that voters from these areas can only vote for national elective positions such as President, Vice President, Senators, and Partylist Representatives during the May 9, 2022 elections. Their manner of voting shall be manual.

What would seem anomalous here was that the said resolution has been contemplated since early September of 2021 yet the COMELEC had allowed the filing of Certificates of Candidacies (COCs) on October 1-8, 2021 to pass without any notice of something preposterous that may happen as a result of such voters’ deprivation. 

Another astounding circumstance was: why was this information barring voters from the 63 barangays to vote for local officials (from the existing parent LGU) published only on November 29, 2021 or more than one month after the filing of COCs? (This was the first available information on this matter as far as this writer is concerned. Source: Business Daily). 

The proper order of things was that COMELEC shall have passed around the information first to the 63 barangays that they can only vote for national candidates before the filing of COCs on October 1-8, 2021 to avert possible issues of residency and place of registration. Because of this shortcoming some candidates from the 63 barangays have filed their COCs for the parent LGU.  What will happen now to candidates from these 63 barangays who had filed COCs for elective positions in the mother (parent) LGU? Will there be questions of residency and voters’ place of registration? While ignorance of the law excuses no one, this is utterly unfair. 

A day after the COMELEC issued its Minute Resolution No. 21-0953 on January 23, 2022 barring registered voters from the 63 barangays to vote for local officials, the BARMM immediately appealed before the COMELEC to reconsider its decision saying that subject resolution “deprives over 200,000 voters from these areas of their right to suffrage and equal protection of the law.” Minister Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo of the BARMM’s Ministry of Interior and Local Government (MILG), and concurrent spokesperson, added that “while the 63 barangays of North Cotabato have become part of the Regional Autonomous Government and no longer part of Region 12, they have not been reconstituted into appropriate local government units pursuant to the Bangsamoro Organic Law.” Minister Sinarimbo also underscored the fact that the computation of the internal revenue allotment for North Cotabato in terms of area, population, and income still includes the 63 barangays, and therefore, these constituents are entitled to be represented and their voices heard.

On the other hand, the COMELEC may not bear all the burden of fault for this apparent miscalculation. The BARMM was a bit slow in reconstituting the 63 barangays into appropriate local government units and had not passed its Regional Electoral Code. Candidates would have run for local elective positions if there were municipalities, and probably a province, created.

A request for the issuance of Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) filed by Ex-Oficio Board Member Dulia D. Sultan, Regional and Provincial President of the Liga ng mga Barangay in Region 12 and North Cotabato, is still pending with the Supreme Court as of this writing.

Well, sometimes we can be politically, and even legally, correct but morally wrong.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a freelance writer, planning consultant and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school).

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