BARMM eyes new province for eight newly created towns

Rommel Rebollido

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BARMM eyes new province for eight newly created towns

PLEBISCITE RESULTS. BARMM Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Elections Chairman George Garcia share a light moment as the regional government receives the plebiscite results for the formal creation of eight new municipalities in the Special Geographic Areas.

BARMM Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim FB page

Based on the ratified regional laws, BARMM Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim will appoint the mayors, vice mayors, and councilors of the new town governments

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – The eight newly created towns of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in Soccssksargen’s Cotabato province will remain under the supervision of the Special Geographic Area Development Authority (SGADA), the region’s interior ministry said on Monday, April 15.

“As of now, they will still be part of the Special Geographic Area (SGA),” according to BARMM Interior Minister Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba when she was asked which of the neighboring BARMM provinces the new towns will be made a part of after their creation was ratified in a plebiscite on Saturday, April 13.

SGADA, which closely works with the BARMM’s Ministry of Interior and Local Governments (MILG), was created to look after the concerns of the 63 SGA barangays in six towns in Cotabato province that opted in 2019 to become part of BARMM. Cotabato, except for the 63 villages, chose to stay a province of the Soccsksargen region.

Alba said the SGADA will supervise the eight towns “until a new province is created, based on the Bangsamoro Local Governance Code.”

Eight laws passed on August 17, 2023, by the interim Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to create the new towns are silent regarding which BARMM province the eight towns will be a part of.

“The creation of a new province shall be via a congressional act, and so we need to lobby for this to happen,” Alba said.

The creation of a new province may not come in time for the 2025 elections. Elections Chairman George Erwin Garcia said the recent plebiscite was a requisite for the first BARMM elections in 2025.

‘Ligawasan Province’

The most populated town in Cotabato province, Pikit, has about half of its villages, numbering 22, ceded to BARMM. This was followed by Midsayap with 13, Pigcawayan with 12, and Carmen and Kabacan with seven each, and Aleosan with two.

The 63 villages have since been referred to as SGA-BARMM, an area considered a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose leaders now run the BARMM after reaching a peace deal with the government in 2014.

The SGA is also an area referred to by the MILF as Ligawasan Province in their transactions.

The villages are located along the Ligawasan Marsh, a vast wetland that straddles the provinces of Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur in the BARMM, and Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat in the Soccsksargen region.

The BARMM laws creating the new towns were ratified in a plebiscite on Saturday, April 13, described by election officials as the most peaceful political exercise in the special autonomous region.

On August 17, 2023, the interim BARMM parliament enacted eight laws, each for the creation of the eight towns. These were overwhelmingly ratified in a plebiscite on Saturday.

With the creation of eight new towns, BARMM now has 125 municipalities.

Selection of leaders

As stated in the laws creating the new towns, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim will appoint the mayors, vice mayors, and municipal councilors of the new town governments.

SGADA Administrator Butch Malang said there were already several people who have signified their intentions to serve, “some with recommendations, but the final say will still be with the Chief Minister.”

Ebrahim will appoint from among candidates who will undergo a review and selection process as dictated by law, he added.

In the meantime, he said the BARMM government will appropriate and provide financial assistance for the administrative and operational requirements of the new local governments.

Malang said every municipality will be given funds by the regional government until they can get their share from the national tax allocation. –

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