Lawmakers' fear of territorial loss delays final BBL scope, plebiscite

MANILA, Philippines – The bicameral conference committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is nowhere close to finalizing the controversial territory and plebiscite under the BBL, as district representatives strongly opposed the inclusion of 6 towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato in the Bangsamoro region.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, bicam co-chairman, said the issue is "personal" to district representatives, as they are worried they would lose territory. 

“I understand the positions of district congressmen because it's a loss of territory for them and medyo mabigat 'yan and malalim….Diyan medyo madugo (it's a very serious and deep issue. That's where it would be quite contentious)....For them, it's historical,” Zubiri told reporters on Tuesday, July 10.

May uuwing luhaan on this issue (Someone would go home in tears on the issue). It’s just managing the outcome,” Zubiri said, as he admitted it is unlikely to reach a middleground, as territory is the most contentious issue.

Zubiri also refused to divulge the issues of the district representatives, saying it would be best to ask them. 

Among the members of the bicam are Lanao del Norte 1st District Representative Mohamad Dimaporo and Lanao del Norte 2nd District Representative Abdullah Dimaporo. The two are also members of the subcommittee on territory and plebiscite.

Under the Senate and House versions, the following Lanao del Norte towns and  North Cotabato barangays (villages) shall vote on whether or not they want to be included in the proposed Bangsamoro State:

The two versions, however, differ on the mode of plebiscite. In the Senate version, the 39 villages and 6 municipalities will be automatically included in the Bangsamoro once their residents vote in favor of inclusion.

The House version wants the mother units of the said areas to decide on their fate. In the case of the 6 towns of Lanao del Norte, the whole province must vote whether or not they want the towns out of their jurisdiction. For the 39 barangays, the municipalities they belong to have the final say on their fate.

Residents of the 39 barangays and 6 municipalities had twice voted for its inclusion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which the proposed BBL seeks to replace. But because of the double layer of voting needed, they have not succeeded.

Zubiri said under the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, these areas were given the opportunity to join the region without the approval of the mother units.

Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairperson and Moro Islamic Liberation Front vice chairperson Ghazali Jaafar said on Monday that the MILF preferred the Senate’s proposal.

Jaafar said Moros have long been living in the 6 towns and 39 villages, even before the greater Cotabato province was divided into smaller provinces in the 1960s.

Zubiri said the bicam is set to decide on the issue on Wednesday, July 11. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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