BARMM’s SGA voters confused over Comelec ruling

Stakeholders pin hope on Pangarungan or SC

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – Thousands of registered voters in the Special Geographical Area (SGA) of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are confused over a Commission on Election (Comelec) ruling that bars them from voting for municipal and provincial officials in North Cotabato where they still belong pending their reconstitution into separate formal units.

With barely twelve (12) days left for the conduct of the May 9 local and national elections, the confusion becomes more intense because the affected residents have not gained remedial attention from concerned institutions – the Comelec or the Supreme Court.

Online image of the petition.

The Comelec heralded last January 3 its Minute Resolution Number 21-0953, which was reportedly promulgated in September 2021 to prevent some 200,000 registered voters in the SGA from electing candidates for mayor, vice-mayor, town councilors, governor, vice governor, board members, and a House representative.

The controversial ruling came before lawyer Saidamen Pangarungan was named Comelec chairman by President Duterte following his feats in the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and for his reform-oriented career background.

Pangarungan could not be contacted for comment as of press time. But stakeholders believed Pangarungan would respond accordingly if properly notified.   

Before Pangarungan’s office assumption last March, the BARMM governance, through the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG), has aired an informal appeal for reconsideration in the ruling.

MILG Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, a lawyer, who aired the appeal through the media, was equally baffled, saying the poll body had earlier rendered an opinion that the SGA resident-voters could still elect their local officials in North Cotabato and the six constituents where they are situated.

The 63 barangays, which the BARMM government tagged as SGA, are located in North Cotabato’s Pikit, Midsayap, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Kabacan and Carmen towns. They became part of the BARMM territory when resident voters opted to join the regional autonomy in a plebiscite in 2019.

Sinarimbo said the 63 barangays have not been reconstituted into towns under BARMM and are still drawing their Internal Revenue Allotments (IRAs) from the North Cotabato-LGU, through their respective six mother towns. The situation is ironic, he hinted.

While the Comelec did not reconsider its controversial ruling, North Cotabato provincial board member Dulian Sultan went to Manila last January and filed a petition for a restraining order from the Supreme Court.

Sultan was joined in the petition by her husband, Mayor Sumulong Sultan of Pikit, North Cotabato, and six other local officials. She is president of North Cotabato Liga ng mga Barangay, a position that renders her an ex-officio member of the provincial council.

Of the six towns, Pikit is most affected because 22 of the 63 barangays are its original constituent-areas.

The Comelec ruling allows the 63-barangay electorates to vote only for national officials. But stakeholders viewed it as a source of deprivation in the residents’ right of suffrage to elect local officials.

Affected residents were still hoping that the Comelec en banc will reconsider the controversial resolution, especially now that the poll body is chaired by lawyer Saidamen Pangarungan, a noted reform-oriented official. (AGM)

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