PIKIT, North Cotabato — Among the seven towns in North Cotabato where residents voted Wednesday on the proposed inclusion of 67 villages in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm), Pikit stands out for losing 22 of its 42 barangays to Barmm.
Only Barangay Balatican out of the 23 proposed for inclusion voted “no.”
The 22 barangays that voted “yes” and whose proposed inclusion was approved by a majority of the voters in the entire town, include Rajah Muda, base of the Eastern Mindanao Front in Camp Rajah Muda, the third largest camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (Biaf), the soon-to-be-decommissioned armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
They also include Barangay Nabundas, the village of Mayor Sumulong Sultan and Barangay Fort Pikit, where the national historical landmark and the municipal hall on a hill are located.
Sultan, who served as mayor from 2006 to 2013; returned as mayor in 2016 and is seeking reelection under President Rodrigo Duterte’s Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban), told MindaNews Thursday that only one out the 23 proposed for inclusion in the Barmm, will remain with Pikit.
Lawyer Omar Sema, a Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission manifested before the Municipal Plebiscite Board of Canvassers that they will file a petition to declare a failure of election in Balatican, claiming there was “no free election because of threats and intimidation.”
Sema said voters shun away from the polls because of alleged threats and intimidation from the Moro National Liberation Front-Nur Misuari faction.
In an earlier interview, Sultan said he goes with the President’s pronouncements that the Bangsamoro law will be good for everyone.
He said, “That’s what the President said… I’d say the same. It will be good for them… We know the theme is good, for peace, for progress of the Bangsamoro. It’s difficult if we go against them because they want to govern so let’s give them the time, the chance to have their autonomy.”
Sultan is willing to be mayor of a town very much less than its original size and population, and therefore, very much less its current P300-million internal revenue allotment (IRA). The IRA is based, among others, on land area and population.
“I want to serve. But of course what is important is what will be good for the Barmm,” he said.
The interest of the majority, not self-interest, should be served, he said, adding, “What is important is we get what the Bangsamoro aspires for.”
Sultan said the separation from Pikit of barangays that will go to Barmm will not be immediate.
As registered voters in North Cotabato, residents of the villages who will go to the Barmm will still vote for municipal officials of Pikit, officials of the province and congressional district because their cluster-of- villages-for-Barmm will not likely be constituted into a municipality or merged with neighboring Maguindanao towns or villages, before the May 13, 2019 elections.
The 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which will govern the Bangsamoro and exercise all powers and functions of the Bangsamoro Government during the three-year transition period has yet to be appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
RA 11054 provides that the Bangsamoro Parliament “may create, divide, merge, abolish, or substantially alter boundaries of municipalities or barangays in accordance with a law enacted by the Parliament.”
But even granting that the BTA will be constituted this month as MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim hopes, it will still not be able to attend to the creation a new town or merge it with contiguous barangays in Maguindanao before the May elections because it has yet to pass its own Bangsamoro Local Government Code.
RA 11054 mandates the BTA to accomplish these “priority legislations”: the Code of Parliamentary Rules and Procedures, Bangsamoro Administrative Code, Bangsamoro Tax and Revenue Code, Bangsamoro Electoral Code, Bangsamoro Local Government Code, Bangsamoro Education Code, Bangsamoro law for Indigenous Peoples, Bangsamoro Civil Service Code.
Asked about what will happen to Pikit’s town hall when Barangay Fort Pikit where it belongs has voted to join the Barmm, Sultan said they will file a formal request that given its historical value, the town hall and the plaza be made part of the adjacent Barangay Poblacion.
Pikit was the site of the first Agricultural Colony in Mindanao established by law in 1912, its first batch of colonists or what would now be referred to as “settlers” and often generically referred to as “Christians,” arriving here on June 17, 1913 from Cebu. Colony no. 1 was composed of 120 colonists who were given lands in the villages of Ladtingan, Calawag, Ginatilan, Panicupan, Manding and Inug-ug .
Five more colonies were set up in 1914 and 1915 in Paidu Pulangui, Silik, Makasendeg, Pagalungan and Talitay.
Panicupan and Makasendeg are among the 22 barangays that will be part of the Barmm.
Nabundas, the village of Mayor Sultan, is also one of the 22.
Since Nabundas will be joining the Barmm, the mayor spoke of his political plans considering he will no longer be qualified to run for Pikit mayor by 2022: “If this is still what I want, I can transfer residence one year or six moths before the election.”
Sultan’s daughter, Muhyryn Sultan-Casi, the incumbent vice nayor, is also seeking reelection while his wife, Dulia, a provincial board member, is running for representative of the first congressional district.
Sultan said it’s possible that he will be mayor of Pikit while his daughter will be mayor of a new town.
The mayor said he hopes that the town’s employees will be absorbed by the government unit that will be created from out of the 22 barangays.
Sultan is confident that the history of mass evacuations in Pikit will end once the Barmm is in place. “Yes, because there will be no more trouble. The Bangsamoro is for peace,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas of Mindanews)