Key Zamboanga officials say no to Bangsamoro region

Angela Casauay
Key Zamboanga officials say no to Bangsamoro region
Statements from peace negotiators that Zamboanga will not be part of the Bangsamoro plebiscite fail to discourage Zamboanga officials from stressing they want to be excluded from it

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – In front of key Zamboanga officials who had just reiterated their strong opposition to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a member of the audience stood up and delivered a statement supporting the measure. 

“The position of the city government is not the position of all residents of Zamboanga City,” said Macksu Magang, a member of the Siapahan non-governmental organization.  

Wearing a shirt carrying the slogans “Yes to genuine peace” and “No to another failed experiment,” Magang said there are also Bangsamoro residents in Zamboanga who continue to be supportive of the bill.

However, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, chairperson of the Senate committee on local government, had to interrupt Magang after he proceeded with his rant against Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabel Climaco and Zamboanga Representative Celso Lobregat. 

Marcos said he should bring up his concerns against the local government in another forum, not during the BBL hearing, which the senator initiated. Climaco, meanwhile, invited Magang to the city hall to discuss his concerns.  

Show of force

Magang was one of the few voices in a hearing dominated by strong sentiments against the BBL, which seeks to create an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with greater powers and resources. Zamboanga is not included in the Bangsamoro core territory.

In a show of force, Climaco and Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde read a statement expressing Zamboanga’s staunch opposition to the BBL while surrounded by other city officials. It was the same statement that the city officials issued during the House ad hoc committee hearing in Zamboanga in 2014. 

“Let me be categorical on the basic position of Zamboanga City. The City of Zamboanga should never form part nor be included in the Bangsamoro now or ever. Neither its 98 component barangays should ever be included in the Bangsamoro” Climaco said. 

Zamboanga twice rejected to be a part of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the past – in 1989 and 2001.

During Thursday’s hearing, statements from speakers expressing criticism and opposition to the BBL were met with applause.  

Contiguity issue 

Although the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process has categorically stated that Zamboanga would not be included in the Bangsamoro core territory, fears over Zamboanga’s possible inclusion in the plebiscite remain because of the issue of “contiguity.” 

Under the proposed BBL, “contiguous” areas or areas sharing a common border with Bangsamoro areas can join the plebiscite to be part of the Bangsamoro through a petition signed by at least 10% of the registered voters. 

There was confusion over the qualification of what contiguous areas are.

Asked to clarify if the law meant areas contiguous by land or sea, Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chairperson Mohagher Iqbal said during the initial stages of BBL discussions that the law was “silent” on the issue. Including water in the definition of contiguity would make Zamboanga eligible to join the Bangsamoro plebiscite through the opt-in provision. 

Chief Justice Hilario Davide, in a Citizens’ Peace Council forum on May 7, said there is existing jurisprudence on the issue – contiguity can only refer to land mass, not water. 

Climaco said the BBL should make the definition of contiguity clear to only include land mass. The House is set to delete the opt-in provision. Marcos said Thursday he is also inclined to delete it. 

Iturralde also called on Congress to review the provision on the proposed Bangsamoro Waters, which would give the new region exclusive jurisdiction over waters extending up to 22.224 kilometers or 12 nautical miles from the low-water mark of coasts that are part of the Bangsamoro territory. The jurisdiction of municipal waters within the 15 kilometer mark would remain under LGUs. 

Also raised was the issue on giving the Bangsamoro region jurisdiction over power generation, transmission and and distribution within Bangsamoro territories. Iturralde said this could be problematic since Lake Lanao also supplies power to areas outside the Bangsamoro. 

The BBL provides that jurisdiction over power generation, transmission and distribution would remain with the central government if the generator is connected to the national grid. 

Cayetano’s moment

Influential Zamboanga politicians have a long history of campaigning against the automous region. 

During the hearing, Zamboanga Representative Celso Lobregat said that he introduced a total of 137 amendments for deletion or addition to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Lobregat is one of the staunchest critics of the law in the House. 

His mother, Clara Lobregat, was also instrumental in campaigning against the inclusion of Zamboanga during Congress deliberations on Republic Act 9054, which expanded the territory of the ARMM. 

Senator Alan Cayetano attended the hearing for a few minutes.

After asking BTC members about how Lake Lanao would be managed under the BBL, Cayetano questioned the appointment of Iqbal’s nephew to the Commission on Elections. 

Cayetano engaged in a brief verbal tussle with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Undersecretary Jose Lorena and BTC member Abdullah Camlian, which ended when Marcos stepped in to appeal to “keep the discussion at an elevated and intellectual level.” –

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