Bangsamoro peace and progress: Clues to the future
Cotabato City: Regional center of Muslim Mindanao
In the capital of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. is more concerned about keeping bandits and lawless elements away from city limits than with the ongoing Bangsamoro peace process.
Guiani sees the Philippine Marines battalion deployed in the city as key to keeping the peace, and he would rather see the unit stay in place to sustain the city's efforts at improving the local business climate and living conditions.
Philippine Navy headquarters confirmed that the Marines would be “redeployed according to the rotational policy” but declined, “for operational security reasons,” to say exactly when the transition would take place.
The mayor said the Marines' presence helped foster a peace and order situation conducive to economic gains.
“The plebiscite is still many months away and I will let the people decide on that. But the urgent situation now is securing the gains we achieved so far,” Guiani said in a phone interview with GMA News Online.
The Marines' redeployment comes less than two weeks after the signing on March 27 of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which is hoped to bring peace and progress to Mindanao over the long term.
Cotabato City is part of the core territory the peace panels envisioned for the Bangsamoro government, and it could very well be the jewel in the crown of the new political entity.
According to Guiani, Cotabato City is vying for various governance awards and has an ongoing P20-million program to modernize its slaughterhouse.
In July 2013, Cotabato City was ranked 31st among 238 cities and municipalities by the National Competitiveness Council, which rated the local government units in terms of the cost of doing business and starting an enterprise.
By comparison, Manila was ranked 41st.
Cotabato City is also the regional capital of the ARMM and Region 12 is now a first class city for internal revenue allotment purposes. Cotabato City is also the center for economic support activities (trade and finance), education and other support services such as social, physical, cultural and other basic services of Central Mindanao, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.
Soon after assuming office back in June 2010, Guiani had to deal with two kidnapping incidents as he worked on breathing life into the local economy.
A local trader, Nelson Tay, was abducted in August while Conchita Tan was forcibly taken in October. Both were later released and survived their abductions.
"(H)indi ako matatakot o matitinag. I will use the full force of the law to put a stop to all these kidnappings, including all other lawless activities in the city, like extortion, carnapping and hold-up. Wala tayong sasantuhin. Hindi ko hahayaang magpatuloy sa paghahasik ng takot ang mga taong ito," Guiani had said in his first 100 days report in October 2010.
However, what was noteworthy about how the kidnappings were resolved was that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front joined in the efforts to rescue the abducted local traders.
“The Chief of Staff of Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces directed all commanders on the ground to rescue the kidnap victim and block all possible entries and exits (in Maguindanao), and shoot-to-kill the kidnappers if they fight back,” MILF spokesman Von Al Haq said in October 2010.
“We have information that Mayangkang Saguile is holding the victim and we have pinpointed their hideout in Maguindanao,” Al Haq said.
The Mindanao Examiner quoted Al Haq as saying that “Tay was freed because of the pressure exerted by the MILF to the kidnappers.” Al Haq also said the MILF coordinated with the ad-hoc joint action group tasked to secure Tay's release.
260 police officers
Mayor Guiani said the the local Philippine National Police force, a unit of 260 officers, must secure the “daytime population” of over half a million people, including residents of about 270,000.
The battle-hardened and battle-ready Marines were, therefore, necessary to help keep the city safe and peaceful.
The local police chief, Senior Superintendent Rolen Balquin, acknowledged that the Marines' presence had been an “effective deterrence against lawless elements.”
But he revealed that the Philippine Army's Special Forces would be coming in to take the place of the Marines.
He said the city's police force would then coordinate with the Special Forces on the arrangements needed to secure the city.
Balquin added that, in the past few months, all they had to really deal with were cases of theft and petty crime.
Bombings and the Zamboanga City crisis
Except that on August 5, 2013, a powerful roadside car bomb killed 9 people and injured at least 40 others. The apparent target was a convoy that included the bulletproof vehicle used at the time by the city administrator.
Just days before, on July 26, another bomb exploded. It detonated in Cagayan de Oro City, which is about 250 kilometers northeast of Cotabato City. That bomb killed 8 people.
Last September, about 180 Moro National Liberation Front forces loyal to former MNLF chairman Nur Misuari attacked several areas in Zamboanga City and held hundreds of residents hostage.
The crisis lasted 20 days. At least 167 MNLF rebels were killed while 247 were arrested.
Four MNLF commanders were among the dead but a fifth commander, Habier Malik, escaped.
Government forces lost 18 troops, with at least 167 more wounded.
The crisis displaced over 100,000 city residents and caused damage to property estimated at over P200 million.
The negotiating panels of the Philippine government and the MILF had said the attacks would not stop the peace process.
At the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro last March 27, President Benigno Aquino III warned “those who want to test the resolve of the state will be met with a firm response based on righteousness and justice—as we demonstrated in Zamboanga City.” — DVM, GMA News