SPECIAL GEOGRAPHIC AREA — Saturday, April 13, marked a historic milestone among the residents of the Special Geographic Area (SGA) in North Cotabato under the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), following the creation of the new eight municipalities.

This, as 72, 358 out of 89,594 registered voters across the 63 barangays in the SGA participated in a plebiscite held in 67 voting hubs, boasting an impressive 81% voter turnout.

“We are delighted to see such a high level of participation from our constituents in the SGA. This is a testament of the peoples’ aspiration for their barangays to be part of BARMM,” stated Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, Secretary Carlito G. Galvez Jr.

According to Galvez, the huge turnout underscores the commitment of the people in the SGA to engage in the democratic process and help shape the future of the Bangsamoro, saying,“This plebiscite is also a very good preparation for the first regular BARMM regional elections to be held in 2025.”

He likewise commended the Commissions on Elections (COMELEC) as well as the security sector led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) for ensuring the peaceful, orderly and smooth conduct of the plebiscite. Galvez also expressed his gratitude to Gov Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza of North Cotabato, and to the leadership of the BARMM government.

Establishment of New Municipalities

The plebiscite, conducted under the Bangsamoro Autonomy Act Nos. 41 to 48, marks a significant step in enhancing and strengthening the BARMM’s overall governance structure.

Once established, the new municipalities to be created out of the 63 barangays in the SGA, will pave the way for enhanced local governance, improved service delivery, and increased community participation in decision-making processes.

An Officer-in-Charge will be appointed as the interim local executive of each new town.
“Our goal is to empower our communities and provide them with the tools and resources needed to thrive,” emphasized Galvez.

“The creation of these new municipalities will allow for more localized governance, tailored to the unique needs and priorities of each area within the SGA,” he said.
The Bangsamoro Autonomy Act Nos. 41 to 48 provides for the creation of the municipalities of Pahamuddin, Kadayangan, Nabalawag, Tugunan, Ligawasan, Malidegao, Old Kabakan, and Kapalawan, all within the province of North Cotabato.

The barangays of Central Labas, Kapinpilan, Malingao, Mudseng, Sambulawan, Tugal, and Tumbras, in Midsayap, North Cotabato, will be part of Kadayangan.
Nabalawag shall be composed of barangays Damatulan, Kadigasan, Kadingilan, Kudarangan, Nabalawag, Olandang from the municipality of Midsayap, and Dungguan from the municipality of Aleosan.

Kaabakan will be composed of barangays Buluan, Nangaan, Sanggadong, Simbuhay, Simone, Pedtad, and Tamped, in Kaabakan, North Cotabato.
Barangays Kibayao, Kitulaan, Langogan, Manarapan, Nasapian, Pebpoloan, and Tupig, in Carmen, North Cotabato, will be included in Kapalawan.
Malidegao will be composed of barangays Balungis, Batulawan, Fort Pikit, Gokotan, Nabundas, Nalapaan, and Nunguan in Pikit, North Cotabato.
Tugunan shall be composed of Barangays Balong, Bualan, Lagunde, Macabual, Macasendeg, Manaulanan, Pamalian, Panicupan from the municipality of Pikit, and Tapodoc from the municipality of Aleosan.
Ligawasan shall be composed of Barangays Bagoinged, Barungis, Bulol, Buliok, Gli-Gli, Kabasalan, and Rajamuda from the municipality of Pikit.

Peaceful Voting Environment Ensured

To ensure a peaceful and orderly voting process, extensive preparations and security measures were implemented to safeguard the rights of voters and maintain public safety.

The deployment of almost 2, 700 combined troops from the military and police to polling stations across the SGA-BARMM, together with the collaborative efforts of the national, BARMM and local governments was crucial in creating a conducive environment for the political exercise.

“I congratulate our PRO BAR troops who were deployed to help secure the Special Geographical Area (SGA) PLEBISCITE which was successfully conducted today, April 13, 2024…Rest assured that we will continue to be [a] responsible police force, competent to render public service, and ensure the safety and security of our region. To our deployed troops, your services rendered to the people of SGA are worthy of commendations. You have significantly contributed to the overall success of this activity,” PBGen Prexxy Tanggawohn, the office-in-charge of the PRO BAR.

PBGEn Percival Augustus Placer, the Regional Police Director of PRO 12, made rounds in the polling precincts and conducted a talk to men in the police force. He reminded the police officers to adhere to the guidance of the Chief PNP to ensure the safety and security of the people they serve. PBGEN PLACER emphasized the importance of discipline, integrity, and professionalism in the performance of their duties.

Major General Alex S. Rillera PA, Commander of the 6th Infantry (Kampilan) Division and Joint Task Force Central, for his part, said the AFP ensured the safety of the voters as well as the poll workers to ensure the integrity of the plebiscites.

In a press release, COMELEC’s spokesperson Atty John Rex Laudingco lauded the peaceful and orderly conduct of the plebiscites.

“The peaceful and orderly conduct of the plebiscites would not have been successful without the invaluable partner agencies, namely the PNP, and AFP, with the full support of the LGUs of the concerned municipalities,” he said.

“The Bangsamoro people, especially the residents of the 8 newly established municipalities, should also be commended for standing united in their years-long aspiration to have their own government and easier access to essential services, since they voted to be included in the BARMM in the 2019 Plebiscite,” he added.

“We are committed to upholding the principles of democracy and ensuring that every voice is heard,” affirmed Galvez.

“Through our collective efforts, we have demonstrated that peaceful elections are not only possible, but more importantly, essential for achieving greater peace, progress and stability in the Bangsamoro,” he stressed.

Impact of Successful Plebiscite

The successful outcome of the plebiscite is expected to have a significant impact on the state of governance and the development of the SGA.

With the establishment of the new municipalities, opportunities for economic growth, infrastructure development, and social cohesion are expected to gain further momentum, laying the foundation for more peaceful, prosperous and resilient communities.

“This plebiscite marks a new chapter in our journey towards self-determination and empowerment,” Galvez said.

“It is a testament to the resilience and determination of our people to shape their destiny and build a brighter future for generations to come,” he emphasized.

Transition Process and Governance Structure

Following the favorable results of the plebiscite, a carefully planned transition process will be initiated to facilitate the establishment of the new municipalities.

The appointment of interim local executives will ensure the continuity of governance and administrative functions, providing stability during this critical transformative period.

“We are committed to a smooth and efficient transition process that prioritizes the needs and aspirations of our communities,” assured Galvez.

“Through collaboration and cooperation, we will work together to build stronger, more inclusive municipalities that reflect the values and aspirations of the people they serve,” Galvez said, as he lauded the BARMM and provincial government of North Cotabato for helping ensure the successful conduct of the plebiscite.

Legal Mandates and Electoral Procedures

The plebiscite was held in accordance with existing laws, policies and electoral procedures, ensuring utmost transparency and accountability throughout the process.

With voting hours scheduled from 7am to 3pm, and the immediate commencement of vote counting after polling station closures, every effort was made to uphold the integrity of the electoral process.

“The adherence to legal mandates and electoral procedures is essential to fostering trust and confidence in our democratic institutions,” Galvez noted.

“We remain committed to transparency, accountability, and the rule of law as we continue to strengthen our democratic governance structures,” he underscored.###