By Nash B. Maulana
SIBUTU, Tawi-Tawi—A new Municipal Hall will rise here as Sibutu’s nucleus of modern-day development, since this island town was inadvertently excluded among others of the Sitangkai Group of Islands from Las Islas Filipinas in the Treaty of Paris of December 1898.
Lady Mayor Nur-Fitra Pajiji Ahaja said a cornerstone was laid over the weekend for the construction of a modern, yet culturally-significant Municipal Hall building in this town that is 595.57 nautical miles (1,103 Kilometers) southeast of Manila.
Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebahim sent in interior and local government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo to represent the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in a memorandum of agreement with the Sibutu local government unit for the construction of its first Municipal Hall ever.
Sinarimbo said the MOA will cover management and spending of a P15 million allocation fund for the construction of Sibutu municipal hall building in Barangay Taungoh, in accordance with BARMM architectural and engineering standards of local government centers.
He said the funding requirements for these projects are drawn from the local government facilities development program of the Office of Chief Minister with the MILG working on the implementation.
Ahaja, who hails from an educated family that speaks good English, said Barangay Taungoh will also serve as Sibutu’s long-term development site of infrastructure and utility support facilities to local governance and the community.
She added that her family and constituents were profoundly grateful to BARMM Chief Minister Ebrahim, as well as to Minister Sinarimbo and the regional government in general, for the project.
Journalists in the regional entourage said ecotourism potentials in what used to be called the Sitangkai Group of Islands (including Sibutu) were comparable to other known spots in the Philippine Tourism Map.
The Sibutu Strait is of great geopolitical significance in terms of international trading by the ocean liners—but sadly the locals have not benefitted anything from it.
Sibutu was created as a separate municipality from the Sitangkai Group of Islands under Muslim Mindanao Act 197.
It serves as the sea passage for ocean liners plying the routes of Japan and China to and from Australia, steaming by day and night in fast navigation through this island town and the capital Bongao. The strait connects the Sulu Sea from the north (between Palawan and the northern tip of Zamboanga Peninsula) to the Celebes Sea toward Australia in the south.
Vice-Mayor Alshefa Pajiji said up to 150 international vessels pass safely through the Sibutu Strait to and from Australia in day-and-night navigation.
Sinarimbo, a lawyer, said the historical case of the (islands’) exclusion from the Treaty of Paris was one interesting lesson in constitutional law, that only in a 1901 supplemental pact to the Treaty of Paris between Spain and the U.S., has eventually covered the Sitangkai Group of Islands (including Sibutu) as part of Las Islas Filipinas, or the Philippine Islands.
“Otherwise, it would have been a separate republic,” one visitor added in jest, drawing laughter at a dinner hosted by the Pajiji’s.
Sinarimbo said a “sustainable engagement” is the essence of going down on the part of the regional governance to the level of the local government units, and feel the need of their constituent-communities—“so that none may feel being in a separate entity from the rest of the archipelago.”
“And that mandate is already relegated to the Bangsamoro Region as an integral part of the national government, under one, united republic,” Sinarimbo said.