Top political family of Sulu wary of BBL, wants opt-out provision


JOLO, Sulu – Members of a top political family in this province opposed the planned general plebiscite on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, saying a province should have the power to choose whether or not to be part of the new Bangsamoro state.

Vice Governor Nurunisah Tan, also the acting governor, said at the Senate consultation hearing on BBL on Thursday, February 8, that the people of Sulu should be able to choose what they want for the province.

“Bakit 'di natin bigyan ang taongbayan ng gusto nila? 'Pag naging maganda resulta, walang problema. Pag di maganda, ayaw masisi mga anak, mga apo na baka bukas makalawa kasalanan ng inyong mga magulang, lolo, kung bakit tayo naging ganito,” said the official, a member of the powerful Tan political clan in Sulu.

Former governor Abdusakur Tan, the kingpin of the family, pushed for the same proposal and said the process should be “more democratic.”

The patriarch proposed that the questions in the plebiscite should not be limited to the approval or disapproval of the BBL. The public should be given the “real choice,” he said.

"Maganda bigyan ng (It would be good to give a) real choice....The voice of the people is the voice of God,” said the elder Tan.

The Tans also called for more information dissemination on the BBL. 

 “We are confident kung maganda ito, mananalo ito dito (that if this is good, it would win here). Give us the opportunity to make our people understand," the former governor said.

“Kung puwede na gawin natin democratic….Taumbayan mamili, tutulungan ko 'yung mga BTC members....Sama-sama tayo rito magexplain....Hiling namin make it democratic,” he added. 

(If possible, let's make it democratic....Let the people choose, I'll help the BTC members....We will explain to them together....We ask that it be made democratic.)

During the open forum, Jolo Regional Trial Court Judge Grace Tillah expressed the same sentiment, saying the people should be asked about specific provisions. 

“Not just a simple question of approve or not approve. Some provisions appeal to us, but we should not be confined to the question, 'Do you like or do you not like it?'” she said.

Opt-out provision

They also opposed the provision in the proposed BBL that the vote of the majority of provinces in the Bangsamoro would be applied.

The elder Tan said the government should recognize that voting by province and not based on the entirety formula “shows genuine concern and sincerity on its part in addressing the historical inequities of the marginalized Muslims."

Article 15, Section 238 of the proposed BBL states that all members of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which the BBL seeks to abolish and replace, would be part of the plebiscite.

It also states that “if the majority of the votes cast in the entirety of the ARMM voted in favor of the approval of the basic law, the Bangsamoro is hereby established and all the provinces and cities of the ARMM shall be part of the Bangsamoro.” 

“This will result to a hostage situation of those who would participate in a plebiscite called for the purpose of ascertaining their true will, then proceeding to railroad acceptance of what they would have potentially rejected,” Tan said.

Tan argued that Article 10, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution states that “only provinces, cities, and geographic areas voting favorably in such plebiscite shall be included in the autonomous region.”

Tillah, for her part, said it is the “greatest injustice” to force a province.

“Give me the freedom to choose. Do not force me by the vote of others,” Tillah said.


Members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) opposed the proposal, saying it would be difficult to submit each provision to the public.

“We cannot have each provision submitted to the people.. so we cannot be specific,” Jose Lorena said. 

Firdausi Isma Abbas said, “You cannot ask several questions, it will take so much time for each voter, I think that’s the reason." 

“The BBL is not the answer to our problem, not the solution to all the problems, but it is a good law. It is the good step and as they say, a journey with a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Abbas added.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the subcommittee on BBL, is also lukewarm to the idea. He said the BBL should be voted on as a whole.

“It will be like stepping backward. Imagine if may (there is an) opt-out provision, ang Sulu naiwan (Sulu is left behind) as part of the Philippine government, kailangan pumunta ng Manila para humingi ng pondo (you have to go to Manila to get funds)….I promise you that will be the largest hotbed of military extremism in the region,” Zubiri said.

The subcommittee is also set to conduct hearings in Tawi-Tawi and Basilan. Zubiri said the Senate is expected to pass the proposed measure by end-March. –


Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, 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