By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) has launched its political rally here, lamenting the city administration’s alleged continuing dissent against the creation and operations of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to the detriment of ordinary city residents.
The UBJP, a regional political party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) including some BARMM key officials, staged its grand proclamation rally at Barangay Kalanganan II here on March 25 to court votes for its full slate led by mayoral candidate Mohammad-Ali “Butch” Matabalao, a veteran city councilor and a part-time journalist.
It pits Matabalao against reelection-seeking City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi on a one-on-one mayoral tilt, with full weight to end what it lamented as “harang” scheme against delivery of BARMM government projects and services in 37 barangays (villages) here, and gain clout over the city being the “crown jewel” of Moro revolutionary struggle for self-determination.
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim, UBJP president and MILF chairman, physically led the rally to dramatize the regional party’s serious efforts against continued resistance of the city against the entry of services, regular projects and emergency assistance from the autonomous governance.
“We need united efforts to ensure that the fruits of our struggle will benefit our constituents in this city. The only way to achieve the drive is for our candidates to muster victory votes to be able to solve the problem,” Ebrahim told rally participants and voters in Filipino.
Ebrahim’s physical presence broke his policy of attending and addressing mass gatherings via virtual protocols in the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, rally organizers said, referring to the UBJP’s ardent stride for BARMM government’s unhampered operations in this city.
BARMM spokesman and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, concurrent UBJP deputy director general, spoke first at the rally, exposing the so-called “harang” system by city hall officials in blocking the entry of emergency relief services and implementation of regular projects from the regional government for this city.
Some elected barangay officials had earlier admitted being advised the city hall to refuse any form of assistance and services from the BARMM government, citing Mayor Guiani-Sayadi’s pending petition in the Supreme Court against the including of this city in the regional autonomous territory via the 2019 plebiscite.
Mayor Guiani-Sayadi once announced in an online message that she would never recognize the authority of the BARMM government over this city pending resolution of her petition, which partly protested coercion allegedly imposed on city registered voters in the conduct of the plebiscite. But neutral quarters believed the plebiscite was conducted honestly and freely.
Hide and seek
Amid the leadership’s resenting policy, BARMM social welfare and health officials had disclosed difficulty in providing efficient relief and medical interventions for barangays here in the current COVID-19 pandemic due to the problem.
“Our teams usually serve Cotabato City villages in a hurry for fear of being caught by resenting city hall officials and followers. We are anxious about our physical security,” Dr. Ameril Usman, BARMM Health Ministry director general, once said in Filipino in a virtual press conference.
BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent UBJP vice president and MILF vice chairman, also attended the rally and reportedly disclosed similar difficulty besetting his ministry’s implementation of projects such us building of classrooms resulting from the city hall’s non-recognition of the regional government.
National government officials including Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año visited here last year and formally turned over to the BARMM bureaucracy his department’s supervision authority over this city. But city hall officials have remained resentful, regional officials said.
‘Fight’ back through ballots
At March 25 rally, BARMM Senior Minister Abdulraof Macacua, concurrent UBJP director general, announced their party’s option to face squarely the city hall’s dissent against regional autonomy, revealing that even himself was once barred by police contingents from entering this city, which hosts the regional government compound.
The incident, he said, almost escalated to a more tense proportion when Army soldiers came and offered to usher him inside.
“Pero, dahil sa ayaw na natin ng away, nagpasaya na lang ako ng huwag na tumuloy,” said Macacua, who is known for battle exploits being the chief-of-staff of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) under the pseudo name of “Sammy Gambar.”
With the launch of the grand rally, Macacua said the UBJP will put up its might to “fight” back at the city hall dissent through the ballot come May 9, 2022 local elections.
“This time, let us fight. We fight together,” Macacua urged rally participants in the vernacular, prodding the public on the cost of life, blood and sweat spent in the Moro revolutionary cause for self-determination.
BARMM Labor Minister Muslimin Sema, a former Cotabato City mayor and incumbent chairman of a major faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and his wife, former Rep. Sandra Sema – representing Maguindanao first district and this city, joined the rally to show the “solid might” of the UBJP in the campaign to gain official clout for the autonomous government over this city.
The lady former three-term congresswoman has been fielded by the UBJP for vice governor in Maguindanao, with incumbent 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu as gubernatorial candidate against the camp of incumbent governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu.
Gov. Sangki-Mangudadatu alongside her husband, incumbent Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu has joined forces with Mayor Guiani-Sayadi in facing the UBJP-led BARMM administration.
Rep. Mangudadatu also attended the rally alongside Maguindanao 1st District Rep. Ronnie Sinsuat, who also seeks reelection under the UBJP party.
The Philippine Muslim Today news tried but failed to get reaction from city hall officials, even as residents said the city mayor was expected to go live again online to sound off counter remarks. (AGM)