Bangsamoro transition panel members booed at Zamboanga forum
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Booed and jeered at, members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body formed by President Benigno Aquino III to draft the basic law of an envisioned autonomous entity, still saw the cold reception at the public forum here Wednesday afternoon as “healthy engagement.”
“We are in a democratic country and everyone is entitled to their own expression and opinion,” Mohaquer Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and BTC chair, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview after the almost three hours of open forum at the grand ballroom of the Grand Astoria Hotel here Wednesday.
During the forum, some of the participants chanted “No,” booed and even walked out.
Iqbal’s group was supposed to have a courtesy visit and an executive session at the City Hall with Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar and members of the City Council on Wednesday morning.
“We decided that instead of a meeting in my office, we maximize the time in a public forum where everyone is allowed to raise questions,” Salazar told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Salazar said it was better that BTC members “meet with the different stakeholders and they will be given the chance to express their side on the city’s united and firm stand regarding the exclusion in the ARMM and in any Bangsamoro entity.”
Salazar started the public forum with a PowerPoint presentation, detailing the Zamboangueños’ consistent stand against inclusion in the ARMM.
She also cited the city’s opposition to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008.
“Zamboanga is for peace, a meaningful, just and lasting peace. We support the peace initiatives of President Benigno Aquino III whose intention is to end the decades-long hostilities in Mindanao,” Salazar said.
She stressed that the city’s “98 component [villages] and its municipal waters as defined under the Fisheries Code should be excluded from the Bangsamoro.”
According to Iqbal, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is “silent” on the whether or not Zamboanga’s waters are included in the new entity’s waters.
“Since the framework is silent on it, I don’t want to speak about it. I am silent to this and please don’t push me to say anything that is silent on that framework,” he later told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
During the open forum, the BTC members calmly answered questions even if the crowd started to get rowdy.
No one from the authorities tried to remind the crowd about proper decorum.
Instead, the mayor stood up and said: “Let us all stand up and show a resounding “no,” that we do not want to be included in the Bangsamoro.”
This prompted about 200 people to give the mayor a standing ovation.
Later, almost half of the crowd walked out of the forum even as the BTC members were still talking.
Lawyer Cesar Jimenez said the walk-out started when BTC member Acmad Sakkam repeatedly urged Zamboangueños to change their minds and join the Bangsamoro.
“The Zamboangueños are sending very clear statement that Zamboanga City must not be part of that Bangsamoro entity. We do not want to be part of any form of government under that kind of structure,” Jimenez said.
“When the mayor asked the people to show a resounding No and to stand up, we stood up and we decided to go out to show to them we are serious,” Jimenez explained.
Still, Iqbal considered what happened as natural.
“Booed? That is part of the consultation, it’s not unnatural. We bank on the truth and we speak the truth from the bottom of our hearts, and as the bible said truth hurts but it sets the heart free,” Iqbal said.
Iqbal expects more of these reactions in their three-day tour in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
He said these “feedback” would be included in their documentation.
“Engaging the people is very important. We don’t have the monopoly of knowledge. We want to refine the Bangsamoro Basic Law. We want to factor in everything that is really coming from the feedback from the people,” he added.
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