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‘Creating More LGUs Prevents Conflicts in ARMM’

By JESUS F. LLANTO

Muslim Mindanao law not as strict as Local Government Code on requirements for new towns.

Four municipalities will be created in Maguindanao in the coming weeks as the lawmaking body of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) sets to approve the bills for the new local government units (LGUs).

More than improving the delivery of services to far-flung villages, however, the real purpose of creating new, but apparently non-viable, LGUs in the Muslim-dominated provinces is to create as many turfs as possible to warring political clans.

Creating new LGUs then becomes a sort of conflict-resolution tool, albeit temporarily.

Benedicto Bacani of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance in the Notre Dame University said the creation of these new LGUs is a conflict-resolution tool.

“New LGUs are created to avoid political conflicts between clans,” Bacani told Newsbreak in a telephone interview. “They serve as enclaves for the political families.”

Bacani added that the move seems to perpetuate a feudal culture but the creation of new towns and barangays has prevented violence caused by rido or clan wars in Maguindanao. Everybody has his own LGU where he can run for a position.

The four new municipalities will bring the total number of Maguindanao municipalities to 26.

The proposed towns of Datu Salibo, Shariff Tibungog, Datu Hofer, and Adam will be composed of villages from seven existing towns of Datu Abdullah Sangki, Ampatuan, Datu Saudi, Datu Piang, Paglat, Pandag, and Gen. S.K. Pendatun.

Bills seeking the creation of the four towns had been filed in the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) and public hearing was held last March 13.

RLA Secretary Dick Mali said the planned creation of the towns would “decentralize functions and resources” and would give the people of the province “more efficient public service and governance from their public officials.”

Maguindanao used to have 29 towns. However, it lost 10 towns when its first congressional district was carved out of it to become a separate province–Shariff Kabunsuan–in October 2006.

In December 2006, three more towns were created in Maguindanao by virtue of the Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act. The municipalities of Mangudadatu and Pandag were carved out of the town of Buluan, while seven barangays from the towns of Talayan and Talitay were grouped to form Datu Anggal Midtimbang.

There had been numerous attempts to create and divide LGUs in Maguindanao and in the ARMM.

From 2001 to September 2004, members of the RLA created 12 barangays and four towns. Some of the towns it created in Maguindanao did not have the resources to set up their own municipal offices.

Sixty six of the 158 laws enacted by the RLA from 1990 to September 2004 sought the creation of new barangays and municipalities. (Click here to read “Dividing Like Amoebas”)

The frequent creation of LGUs is not unique to Maguindanao. LGUs were created in other ARMM provinces through the Regional Legislative Assembly.

In May 2006, Basilan had four additional towns—Ungkaya Pukan, Al Barka, Haji Muhammad Adul, and Akbar. They were created by regrouping barangays in the towns of Tipo-Tipo and Tuburan. That same year, the municipality of Sibutu in Tawi-Tawi was carved out of Sitangkai, while Lumbaca-Unayan in Lanao del Sur was created from the villages of its mother municipalities, Bayang and Lumbatan.

Under the Local Government Code, a new municipality can be created if it meets the following criteria: a contiguous territory of 50 square kilometers, a population of at least 25,000, and an annual income of P 2.5 million for the last two years.

However, Republic Act 9054 or the Expanded ARMM Law, has given the region’s lawmaking body, the RLA, the power to create, divide, or abolish existing local government units in the region even without the approval of Congress.

Once a bill seeking the creation of the LGU is re-enacted, a plebiscite will be held.

Shariff Kabunsuan, the newly created province in the region, was created by virtue of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act (MMAA) 201 in 2006 and by invoking this provision of RA 9054.

Shariff Kabunsuan has 11 towns now. Its eleventh town, Northern Kabuntalan, was created in Dec. 30, 2006, by virtue of MMAA 205.

Apart from the power to create new LGUs, the Expanded ARMM Law gives the RLA the power to set its own criteria in creating, dividing, merging, or abolishing LGUs.

Article VI Section 19 of the Expanded ARMM Law gives the RLA the power to “prescribe standards lower than those mandated by Republic Act 7160, the Local Government Code of 1991,” in the creation, division, merger, abolition or alteration of the boundaries of provinces, cities, municipalities or barangay.”

The Expanded ARMM Law also states that LGUs created without meeting standards of the Local Government Code are not entitled to any share of taxes that are allotted to the LGUs created under the LGC provisions. Funds for these LGUs shall come from general funds of the ARMM regional government, and may further burden the already financially strained regional government.

This story is part of the Mindanao Online Reporting Project funded by the Australian Embassy.

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