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COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The interior minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) called on local officials and other stakeholders in the region to collaborate to avoid a potential no-election scenario in 2025. This hinges on their ability to reach a consensus on the creation of parliamentary districts in the Muslim-majority political territory.
In the Bangsamoro Transition Authority’s (BTA) Parliament Bill No. 267, the aim is to establish parliamentary districts across all provinces, cities, municipalities, and parts of Cotabato province which comprise BARMM’s special geographical area (SGA).
Each district, based on the bill, will have a representative in the BARMM parliament.
Officials in the BARMM, however, have not yet agreed on the composition of some districts, with some insisting on the creation of more.
BARMM Interior Minister Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba, who also serves as the interim regional parliament’s floor leader, pointed out that based on the law, the creation of the districts “is a prerequisite for conducting elections in the region.”
“The absence of these districts would hinder the electoral process,” Alba said on Monday, January 15.
The regional government started holding public consultations on Monday on the proposed Parliamentary Districts Act of 2023 at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in Cotabato City, Maguindanao del Norte, and Midsayap town, Cotabato province for the SGAs.
Under the Bangsamoro Electoral Code, the region’s parliament will be composed of 80 members, consisting of 32 district representatives, 40 representatives of the BARMM’s accredited political parties, and eight sectoral representatives.
Some issues, however, were raised about the number of districts in the bill, while others questioned the composition of some of the districts.
Cotabato City Mayor Bruce Matabalao, for instance, said his city is qualified to have three districts based on the population requirement, and yet the bill provides for only two.
Under the bill, Cotabato City would have 20 barangays under the proposed 1st District, and 17 under the planned 2nd District.
Others questioned the inclusion of their territories in a specific district when they thought that they should be part of a different district.
Wawi Sema, a barangay chairman, said his village, Tamontaka Mother, was placed in the proposed 2nd District, while five neighboring barangays were included in the proposed 1st District of Cotabato City.
“Barangay Tamontaka Mother is more contiguous and adjacent to the barangays placed in the 1st District of the proposed bill,” Sema said.
During separate public consultations in Parang town in Maguindanao del Norte, officials of the municipal government of Matanog raised concerns about their inclusion in the proposed 1st District of the province.
Ponpon Zaman, representing the Matanog town government, asserted that their municipality should be part of Maguindanao del Norte’s planned 2nd District. Their position is based on historical grounds, as Matanog was originally carved out of Parang town, which is part of the other proposed district.
Zaman also stressed that Matanog has historically relied on the resources of areas along the Illana Bay, which fall within the political territories under the proposed 2nd District.
Abolais Manalao, the vice mayor of Buldon town, expressed concern that the stance of Matanog town officials could jeopardize the proposed 1st District’s eligibility to become a district due to population requirements, “unless another nearby town in the province can fill the gap.”
In the SGA in Cotabato province, local officials were asserting the creation of two BARMM districts instead of one provided in the bill, pointing out that they have a combined population of 200,000.
Based on the rule, each BARMM district should have a population of at least 100,000.
Similar public consultations are being planned for Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Lanao del Sur. Under the bill, Basilan would have three districts, seven in Sulu, three in Tawi-Tawi, eight in Lanao del Sur, and four in Maguindanao del Sur.
The BARMM regional government has urged stakeholders to submit their position papers by February 2.
Presently, the BARMM is governed by an interim regional government whose officials were appointed by the President. The region is scheduled to conduct its inaugural regional elections in 2025.
The establishment of BARMM, aimed at providing increased autonomy, self-governance, and addressing historical grievances of Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao, was a result of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) through a plebiscite in 2019. It replaced the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). – Rappler.com