The mayor of a predominantly Catholic city in the southern Philippines has voiced strong opposition to the prospect of its inclusion in the core territories of the Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The entity is to be born from a peace deal signed between the region's largest rebel group and the government to end a 45-year conflict that has seen around 120,000 people killed, displaced two million and stunted economic growth in one of the Philippines’ poorest regions.
Isabelle Climaco and city councilmen rejected Zamboanga's inclusion during a public hearing on Bangsamoro Basic Law led by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, on Thursday.
"We the people of the city of Zamboanga consistently rejected the inclusion of the city in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao," she said.
"The city of Zamboanga and all of its 98 barangays and sitios should never be included in the Bangsamoro, now or ever."
According to the mayor, a 1989 plebiscite had seen 90,152 people vote against the inclusion of the city in the ARMM compared to 5,299 who voted in favor; while a 2001 plebiscite had seen an overwhelming 112,735 vote against compared to 5,849 who voted in favor.
She said that although the city council supports President Benigno Aquino III's initiatives to achieve peace in Mindanao, some provisions stipulated in the BBL could pose harm to industries in the city.
Climaco also recounted the challenges faced by the city following a 2013 siege by rebels determined to voice their opposition to the peace deal.
“The rebuilding and reconstruction from the siege is quite difficult and challenging. But we shall rise up once again, under one flag, one nation, one Zamboanga, united and undivided under one Philippines,” she said.
Zamboanga City Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde raised his concerns on the proposed law, such as the deployment of the members of the Bangsamoro police force should only be assigned to areas under its territory and the provision of an exclusion clause under the BBL.
Meanwhile, Senator Marcos took note of the points raised by the officials .
"Zamboanga City has a very consistent position. The points that were made in today's [Thursday] presentation are certainly well noted and many of these points are actually under study as to what possible remedies there might be," said Marcos.