By Ali G. Macabalang
The Senate has approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to divide Maguindanao into two provinces– Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur, stirring elation among stakeholders including the proponents of the counterpart bill in the House of Representatives.
With 22 approval votes, no negative vote or abstention, senators passed on Tuesday House Bill No. 6413, sponsored by Senator Francisco Tolentino as chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government.
Sen. Tolentino lauded his colleagues in passing the bill, saying it will hasten the political and socio-economic growth of the new provinces, and redound to more focused government services to communities therein.
He said the province is blessed with rich and abundant natural resources but its size remains to be a challenge for the provincial government to provide basic services like public health care, education, and transportation to the most remote villages.
Senator Bong Revilla, who co-sponsored the bill, shared the optimism, saying the approved division of Maguindanao was “historic” as to bring about “more responsive” and “participative” governances in the two new provinces.
The proposed provinces were named as Southern and Northern Maguindanao in the original bills harmonized and passed on June 1, 2020 by the House of Representatives on June 1, 2020 on authorship of Congressmen Esmael Mangudadatu and Ronnie Sinsuat Sr. of the province’s second and first districts, respectively.
The Senate made an omnibus amendment and renamed the two units as Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte.
Senator Miguel Zuburi, who pushed for the amendment, acknowledged the difficulty in managing a large province like Maguindanao with 36 towns and a population of 1,173,933 as of 2015. He cited Bukidnon, his home province, which he said entails for incumbent officials challenges to govern.
The bill prescribes for Maguindanao del Norte to encompass Barira, Buldon, Datu Blah Sinsuat, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Kabuntalan, Matanog, Northern Kabuntalan, Parang, North Upi, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, and Talitay. Datu Odin Sinsuat is named as its capital town or provincial seat.
Maguindanao del Sur consists of Ampatuan, Buluan, Datu Abdulla Sangki, Datu Anggal Midtimbang, Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Datu Montawal, Datu Paglas, Datu Piang, Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Gen. S. K. Pendatun, Guindulungan, Mamasapano, Mangudadatu, Pagalungan, Paglat, Pandag, Rajah Buayan, Sharif Aguak, Sharif Saydona Mustafa, Sultan sa Barongis, Talayan, and South Upi.
The bill retains the existing Buluan capital town as official provincial seat for Maguindanao del Sur.
Rep. Mangudadatu, a former three-term governor of Maguindanao, watched Tuesdays’ live streamed Senate session and immediately heralded the “good news” to his constituents through social media platforms including Facebook.
“Alhamdulillah (praise be to God). We are very glad to announce to our countrymen in the Province of Maguindanao that the House Bill No. 6413 or the law that forms two provinces out of Maguindanao has been passed third and final reading of the Senate this afternoon,” Mangudadatu said in a Facebook post Tuesday evening.
“To Senator Francis ′′Tol′′ Tolentino and to all our senators, we in the province of Maguindanao are very grateful to you for listening to our request,” he said.
Interviewed over the phone Wednesday morning by the Philippine Muslim Today news, Mangudadatu said he has urged House Majority Floor Leader Martin Rolmualdez and his Senate counterpart to facilitate the conduct of a bicameral committee conference to come up a joint report on the bill and submit to the President for signing into law.
Mangudadatu said he was hoping the joint meeting will happen this or next week. He added that once brought to Malacañang, the bill will automatically become a law after 30 days if it not signed by the President within the period.
If the desired timeline took due course, the Commission on Elections will be able to hold a referendum for such law prior to the October 1-5, 2021 filing of candidacies for elective local and national posts in 2022, Mangudadatu said.
He was also optimistic that registered voters in the proposed two provinces will be able to elect their separate sets of governors, vice governors, provincial board members, mayors and representatives to Congress in time with the 2022 synchronized elections. (Ali G. Macabalang)