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Dividing Like Amoebas

By Gemma B. Bagayaua

While towns elsewhere in the country are scrambling to consolidate
and vie for cityhood, the trend in the Autonomous Region in Muslim
Mindanao (ARMM) is to divide its towns and barangays into smaller local
government units.


Since their election in 2001, members of the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) seem to have preoccupied themselves with creating new entities. Their output so far: 12 new barangays and four new towns. Of the 158 laws that the RLA enacted since it was born in 1990, some 54 pertained to creating new barangays, 12 forming new municipalities, 16 renaming towns, barangays, and streets, and one establishing a new engineering district.

The Local Government Code states that for a new municipality to be created, it has to have a population of at least 25,000 and sufficient income for at least two years, at present pegged at P2.5 million annually. Armando Mastura, mayor of Sultan Mastura, a municipality recently carved from Sultan Kudarat, province of Maguindanao, admitted to NEWSBREAK that no studies had been made on how much income his new town could generate internally. Sultan Mastura is in a better position than other new towns because its mother municipality, Sultan Kudarat, was the most populous in Maguindanao with over 90,000 inhabitants as of 2000.

The other new towns were taken out of much smaller municipalities. Data from the Commission on Elections show that the smallest newly created town, Paglat, has only 3,292 voters. On the basis of its electorate size, the population is likely to be less than the required 25,000.

Whether splitting government units would be good for one of the country’s poorest region remains to be seen. Mayor Mastura, for example, is at present preoccupied with building Sultan Masturaís new municipal hall and recruiting employees. Officials of Sultan Mastura still hold office at the municipal hall of Sultan Kudarat.

Sources say the other newly created municipalities in Maguindanao are still ‘paper’ municipalities; they have no offices yet. Yet, more new municipalities are being proposed. Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan showed to NEWSBREAK a road project in the capital town of Shariff Aguak that is supposed to lead to yet another proposed town.

So why create new towns? Norie Unas, spokesperson of Governor Ampatuan said that the municipalities from which the new towns were created used to be hotly contested every election time. To deal with this problem, "deserving leaders" of the hotly contested areas were consulted and they agreed to divide the towns so each could have his own territory, he said. Unas believes this is why the elections last May were the most peaceful in years.

There could be other reasons. The mayors of the newly created towns of Datu Unsay (Andal Uy Ampatuan Jr.) and Shariff Aguak (Zaldy Puti Uy Ampatuan) are sons of the governor of Maguindanao. The mayor of Datu Saudi Uy Ampatuan, another newly created town, is the governorís grandson, Saudi Ampatuan Jr. The mayor of Datu Piang, the town from which Datu Saudi Uy Ampatuan was carved, is the governor’s brotherin-law, Hadji Samer Uy.

The mayors of Guindulungan, another new town, and Talayan, its mother municipality, both belong to the Midtimbang clan. Finally, the mayors of Datu Muntawal and Pagalungan, Datu Muntawalís mother municipality, are a husband-and-wife team: Macabangen Montawal and Bai Annie Montawal.

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