By: Jim Lloyd Dongiapon

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is now preparing for the upcoming plebiscite next month regarding the division of Maguindanao into two new provinces, namely Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur.

PNP Chief Police General (PGen.) Rodolfo Azurin, Jr. shared that their office is in constant coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to ensure a safe and peaceful conduct of the plebiscite. 

Azurin has already ordered the setting up of random checkpoints and strengthening of police visibility in the province of Maguindanao.

In addition, the election gun ban in Maguindanao took effect last Tuesday, August 16, and will last until September 24, when the election period ends.

COMELEC has also begun the printing of ballots that will be used in the plebiscite.

The Maguindanao division plebiscite will be held on September 17 this year, pursuant to COMELEC Resolution Number 10797, as required by Republic Act No. 11550, which was approved by the 18th Congress on February 27, 2020, and was signed into law by Former President Rodrigo Duterte on May 27, 2021.

It was originally scheduled for August 2021, but was postponed to the current date, which is more than four months after the May 9, 2022 general elections. 

939,011 registered voters in Maguindanao are eligible to participate in the voting process, in which 50 percent plus one of the total valid votes is needed to either ratify or junk RA 11550.

As of this writing, both the “Yes” and the “No” campaigns are convincing the electorate to decide on the fate of their province, whether they will approve of the partitioning or whether they will remain as one province.

If the “Yes” votes gain the majority, Maguindanao will once again be divided into two provinces, 16 years after the creation of the province of Shariff Kabunsuan in 2006 by virtue of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 201.

The autonomy act was ratified on October 28 of the same year. However, it became a short-lived province as the Supreme Court nullified its creation on July 17, 2008.

RA 11550 states that Maguindanao del Norte will be composed of the former towns that made up the Shariff Kabunsuan province, with the addition of Sultan Sumagka (Talitay). These towns are: Barira, Buldon, Datu Blah T. Sinsuat, Kabuntalan, Matanog, Northern Kabuntalan, Parang, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, Upi, and Datu Odin Sinsuat, which will become the province’s seat of power.

On the other hand, Maguindanao del Sur will be made up of 24 municipalities, which are:  Ampatuan, Buluan, Datu Abdulla Sangki, Datu Anggal Midtimbang, Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Datu Montawal, Datu Paglas, Datu Piang, Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun, Guindulungan, Mamasapano, Mangudadatu, Pagalungan, Paglat, Pandag, Rajah Buayan, Sharif Aguak, Sharif Saydona Mustafa, Sultan sa Barongis, Talayan, South Upi, and Buluan, its designated seat of power. 

According to Section 48 of RA 11550, the original Maguindanao province is responsible for paying the costs associated with the division plebiscite.

Section 50 states that Maguindanao del Sur will become the mother province, and the elected governor of the original Maguindanao province will serve as governor of Maguindanao del Sur. The acting governor of Maguindanao del Norte shall be the vice governor or any other highest ranking member of the sangguniang panlalawigan (provincial board) who is a resident of Maguindanao del Norte. 

If a resident of Maguindanao del Norte was elected governor of Maguindanao in the last elections, he or she would only hold that position until a resident of Maguindanao del Sur will have taken over in the following local elections, or in 2025.

Other vacancies on the provincial boards of the two new provinces shall be filled by appointments made by the President of the Philippines. 

Section 9 stipulates that Cotabato City, an independent component city of Maguindanao, will join Maguindanao del Norte’s legislative district.

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