Jan 23, 2019

For decades, Cotabato City served as the capital of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). This is ironic considering that it is officially under Region XII or Soccsksargen and not ARMM.

But that is not the case anymore as a resounding number of voters said “yes” to the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and in turn, to creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Cotabato City BOL bangsamoro
A polling precinct in Cotabato City manned by a policeman. Photo courtesy of Jeoffrey Maitem for Inquirer.net

In the city’s 374 precincts, 36,682 voted in favor of BOL versus 24,994 who were against the move to replace the 29-year-old autonomous regional government.

As early as 3 p.m. on the first day of the plebiscite, a majority of the provinces throughout Mindanao have already expressed support to the move, including Sulu, Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato City, Basilan, and Maguindanao.

Cotabato City, dubbed as the crown jewel of Bangsamoro, has rejected previous plebiscites including the Organic Act of the ARMM (R.A. No. 6734) in 1989 and expanded ARMM Law (R.A. No. 9054) in 2001.

What’s at stake for Cotabato City?

Ben Bacani, the executive director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance in Cotabato City, believes that it has more to do with what the city will lose and not what it will gain in this historic move.

Cotabato City BOL Bangsamoro
Supporters of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in Cotabato City. Photo courtesy of Jeoffrey Maitem for Inquirer.net

“The mayor’s formula for keeping the peace [in Cotabato] is really controlling the entry of people and arms,” Bacani said in an interview in Cotabato, which is considered the safest city in the region, ranking second in the country with the lowest crime rate.

“People from the opposition fear that once they are under the BARMM, the local government would lose control over security precisely because you cannot stop people getting in anymore.”

Looking back and forward

Last August, we visited the city then hosting the annual Pakaradjaan Festival, a smart choice considering security concerns in the region.

nolisoli armm mock villages

Explore Muslim Mindanao through these mini villages in Cotabato City

There at the capitol complex was a mock villages display which featured astanahs or houses of the sultans, traditional music, dances, food, and crafts from the five regions of the ARMM: Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Maguindanao, and Tawi-Tawi.

The secret to this Tausug beef stew is burnt coconut

We learned from a Tausug woman stationed there how to cook a stew of beef colored with burnt coconut traditionally served during celebrations.

Another foreseen benefit of uniting territories under the new BARMM, at least according to Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, is a prospective tourism boom especially in the beaches of the south.

Panguan island of Tawi Tawi. Photo courtesy of Philippine Canadian Inquirer

Mindanao beaches could be big winners in Bangsamoro autonomy, says Sen. Migz Zubiri

“The senator openly gushed about Mindanao’s beaches, especially the undisturbed waters surrounding Bongao island in Tawi-Tawi that he said could upstage the world-renown Boracay island in the Visayas,” writes one of our contributors.

However, Zubiri suggested that in order to attract visitors, communities in the south must first address security threats in their localities—such as the presence of armed groups.

malamawi beach basilan

This white sand beach in Basilan doesn’t want to be the next Boracay

A similar problem has kept a pristine island in Basilan in relative obscurity. Malamawi beach with its white sand and aquamarine waters could rival Boracay, but threats in security and lack of resources have made it hard for locals to lure tourists in.

nolisoli culture mindanao

Growing up in the land of promise and why Mindanao is just a normal place

Then again not all of Mindanao can be generalized in stories of terror, insurgency, and political unrest. For one of our writers who grew up in Iligan, her picture of Mindanao is one of home spent with family and friends—”just like any other, and everything that goes along with that.”

With the ratification of BOL and the establishment of BARMM, and along with it the opening up of Cotabato City, it is these stories—of culture, of its rich heritage, and of its people—that we need to spread and uplift. Mindanao is not a monolith; it’s a land bearing complex and diverse stories that are just as much about joy as they are pains and triumphs alongside defeat. It’s time the rest of the country wakes up to that.


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Read more:

3 female weavers from Mindanao officially join the roster of Manlilikha ng Bayan

These children’s books hope to heal scars of the Marawi siege

A play about indigenous peoples of Mindanao takes center stage in NYC


TAGS: armm bangsamoro bangsamoro organic law BARMM cotabato city Mindanao