Lanao del Sur

Bill seeking to split Lanao del Sur town stirs memories of place’s bloody history

Froilan Gallardo

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Bill seeking to split Lanao del Sur town stirs memories of place’s bloody history

LISTENING. An elderly resident blows smoke from his pipe as he listens to speakers argue against Bangsamoro Parliament Bill no. 271, pushing the division of Wao into two towns on March 14, 2024.

Froilan Gallardo/Rappler

A Bangsamoro parliament bill seeks to create a new municipality called Saripada by carving out 11 of the 26 barangays of Wao town

LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – Residents of Wao town fear a return to its bloody past – a time in the 1970s when land conflicts pitted Christian settlers against Moro inhabitants – if a bill proposing to divide it into two pushes through in the Bangsamoro Parliament.

Bill No. 271 was filed by Bangsamoro Parliament Member Ali Montaha Babao from Lanao del Sur, seeking to create a new municipality called Saripada by carving out 11 of the 26 barangays in the progressive second-class town.

The bill seeks to establish the seat of the new municipality of Pilintangan in Barangay Pilintangan. The 11 barangays to be included in the new town are Balatin, Buntongan, Buot, East Kilikili, Kadingilan, Mimbuaya, Muslim Village, Panang, Park Area, Pilintangan, and Western Poblacion.

MESSAGE. A police officer walks past a huge poster set up by residents who oppose Bangsamoro Parliament Bill No. 271. Froilan Gallardo/Rappler

Many residents fear a return to the violent past of Wao, where Christian settlers fought against the Moros, who were the original occupants.

Thirty-five-year-old Joana Pallorina watched from the store where she was working as indignant residents rallied in the town plaza and denounced the proposed law that seeks the creation of a new municipality from 11 barangays of Wao.

“There will be trouble here if that bill is passed,” Pallorina said.

Wao town Mayor Elvino Balicao Jr. said the creation of the new municipality from these 11 barangays, which have predominantly Muslim residents, would create misunderstanding, disunity, and distrust among Christian and Muslim residents.

Aside from that, Balicao said the division would leave many government buildings to the new town, reducing Wao to a third-class municipality.

“This will slow down the growth of Wao due to the reduction of land area, decline in business activity resulting in lower revenues, and the reduction of the National Tax Allocation (NTA),” Balicao said.

Body Part, Finger, Hand
Wao, Lanao del Sur residents participate in an indignation rally against Bangsamoro Parliament Bill No. 271, pushing the division of the 2nd-class municipality into two towns on March 14, 2024. Froilan Gallardo/Rappler

However, it is the town’s violent past that scares most residents.

Pallorina said Christians and Muslims fought against each other in the bloodiest communal violence recorded in the 1970s.

She said her family, who hails from Pampanga in Luzon, fought against the Muslims and wants to forget that harrowing history.

Pallorina said the violence started when Moro residents demanded the return of the lands.

“I have to make plans to go back to Pampanga if there would be renewed fighting,” Pallorina said.

Another Wao resident, Arjay Turio, recalled the bloody events when the late former president Ferdinand Marcos created the municipality of Amai Manabilang, carved from the town of Wao.

Presidential Decree No. 1243, signed by the late president, resulted in heavy fighting between Christian settlers and Moro residents.

“Muslims looked at Christians as land grabbers while Christians branded Muslims as criminals. We do not want that to happen again in the future,” Turio said.

Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Deputy Floor Leader Mary Ann Arnado said the bill filed by Babao was still on the first reading in the Bangsamoro parliament.

Arnado said Babao had been urging for the bill to be discussed in the second reading, but it had not gained support from fellow parliament members.

“It will not gain any support despite Babao’s urging, considering the pain it has caused to Wao residents,” Arnado said.

Arnado said the BTA will find time to go to Wao to assure the residents that the parliament will not be instrumental in dividing the town.

BTA members Rasul Enderez and Rasol Mitmog also echoed Arnado’s sentiments, adding they will move to kill the bill during their session. –

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