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Dream in limbo

Uriel Quilinguing . 

WHILE the Commission on Elections and those engaged in the Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscites on Feb. 6 deserve commendations for a job well done, the outcome is puzzling. Results of plebiscites are supposed to project the collective sentiments of the voters, but not so in the case of Lanao del Norte’s six municipalities. 

Based on the Comelec certificates of canvass from the Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangcal towns of Lanao del Norte, most if not all residents wanted to leave their mother province for the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In Tangkal, for example, nobody voted for “no” while 6,276 for “yes” and in Munai, only four voted for “no” while 10,765 for “yes.” But their  overwhelming “yes” votes have no bearing at all because the 16 other municipalities of Lanao del Norte province want them to stay, voting against the inclusion of their municipalities to the Barmm. To illustrate this, Tangkal got 157,417 “no” votes while only 75,364 “yes” votes while Munai had 158,025 “no votes” and only 71,148 “yes” votes.

The same trend can be seen in the predominantly Muslim population of Baloi, Nunungan, Pantar and Tagoloan towns who, back in 2001, already petitioned for their inclusion with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.  

Now, the culprit here is the very law which momentarily offered hope to residents of these six municipalities that their 18-year-old wish could come true. Article XV, Section 3 (b) of Republic Act No. 11054 (Bangsamoro Organic Law) states that “Any of the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal in the province  of Lanao del Norte that votes favorably for its inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region shall form part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region: Provided, that the majority of the votes cast in the province of Lanao del Norte shall be in favor of the inclusion of the municipalities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”

This is the so-called “double majority” which is a two-part test for “strong support for any measure considered to be of great importance.” Such is commonly practiced in Australia, Canada, Finland, Switzerland and in the United States of America in the conduct of referendum, plebiscites and other initiatives. 

If “double majority” works in these countries, there is no guarantee that it will have the same effect in Muslim Mindanao.

The way I see it, this provision of the Bangsamoro Organic Law was not applied in the North Cotabato plebiscite on Feb. 6 as far as the municipalities Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Tulunan are concerned. Comelec reported that residents of 21 out of 67 barangays voted for their inclusion in the Barmm and there was no need for voters from the province’s municipalities to affirm the wishes of the barangays.

Considering these facts, it is clear there is only one law yet its provision is applied differently in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato. Incidentally, Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal of Lanao del Norte are considered to be strongholds of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front while Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Tulunan are areas claimed to be under the Moro National Liberation Front’s control. Authors of the BOL may have taken into consideration the MILF- and MNLF-controlled areas.

Also, the “double majority” rule which is contained in the BOL must be reexamined as to whether the provision be retained, amended or discarded altogether, if such would only suppress the “voice of the people.”

For now, it’s best to keep an eye on the next steps the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte would take as their common dream remains in limbo.

(Uriel C. Quilinguing is a past president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club and former editor-in-chief of this paper.)

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