By Ali G. Macabalang
Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim is elated over the impending acquisition of supervision over this city, even as he assured the city populace of optimum attention from the regional government.
“(We are) pleased and honored to welcome Cotabato City as integral part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM),” said Ebrahim, known for decades as Hadji Murad in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
This city peculiarly hosted the bureaucracy of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for 29 years, it being not official component of the defunct regional government.
In a plebiscite on Jan. 21, 2019, majority of the city populace voted for inclusion in BARMM territory, ending the city’s confusing stance as seat of regional autonomous government for almost three decades.
Murad described the city electorate’s option for inclusion in the new autonomy as “historic,” admitting though that the legal mandate for the process of automatic turnover of supervision by the BARMM government was “not easy.”
Shortly after the plebiscite, City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, a lawyer, filed an electoral protest before the Supreme Court casting doubts on the referendum result. The city hall has since refused to be placed under BARMM authority, even as the North Cotabato provincial government had turned over to the regional bureaucracy the supervision over its 63 component barangays that voted for autonomy in the plebiscite.
In the early implementation of state-imposed protocols on quelling the spread of COVID-19 disease, city hall officials tangled with BARMM officials on matters of supervision. Some 50 contractual city traffic operations workers allegedly got laid off for receiving relief goods from BARMM. The city has not denied or confirmed the lay-off issue.
The tug-of-war had prompted President Duterte alongside Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año to broker last February a compromise for the BARMM and city hall officials to cause the turnover ceremony this month.
In Facebook posts, BARMM spokesman and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said City Mayor Sayadi filed a petition for reconsideration last October but the national government denied the motion.
Lawyer Sinarimbo later said the Inter-Government Relations Body (IGRB), a bilateral entity handing the devolution of national government functions and assets to BARMM, decided to fix the ceremonial turnover of supervision this Dec. 15, Tuesday, here.
In a meeting at Camp Aguinaldo last Friday, Sinarimbo said, Chief Minister Ebrahim and National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “discussed” details about Tuesday’s turnover event and the corresponding “security preparations.”
Lorenzana “informed us that he will personally attend the turnover of the city this coming December 15,” he said, adding that Sec. Año and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. were also confirmed for attendance.
He said the defense secretary also expressed support to the proposed extension of the BARMM transition period, and assured corresponding support to BARMM security concerns in some communities of Sulu and Maguindanao.
In his written message, Ebrahim said his administration is “committed to (optimizing) services that can further boost the potential of Cotabato City, unique with its own context and in support to its own resources.”
“We will make sure that BARMM’s development will (radiate) in the city, being its administrative capital and celebrate the diversity it has with no constituency left behind regardless of faith, ethnicity or (political) affiliation,” he said.
“There were differences in opinions, principles and apprehensions that paint a stark contrast to the result of historic plebiscite,” Ebrahim said, referring to the divisive debate over the supervision turnover issue.
The chief minister appealed to “our brothers and sisters in Cotabato (City) to find commonalities in our difference, to choose hope over fear, to (favor) unity over division, and to work together in co-creating the Bangsamoro reflective of our shared histories as Moros, Christian settlers and indigenous communities.”
“We have more works to do (together) in order to realize genuine autonomy (envisioned in) the agreements in the peace process…We can create opportunities for all and install a regional bureaucracy worthy of the Bangsamoro, inshaallah,” Ebrahim concluded in his statement, a copy of which was obtained by the Philippine Muslim Today. (AGM)