By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The unresolved tussle over a 72-hectare property between the leaderships of Zamboanga City and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is causing frayed nerves between the leaders of the two sides.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar claimed that the Duterte government has committed to purchase the disputed Cabatangan property, which has a total area of 71,096 hectares, in what she described as a “very welcome development” that may pave the way for the city leadership to buy the asset after 28 years.
But ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman expressed shock over the supposed proposal, saying he was not aware of any offer by the national government to buy the Cabatangan property, which has an estimated value of P359 million.
Hataman said there has been no intent to sell any part of the property, which the ARMM government inherited from its predecessor, the defunct Autonomous Region in Western Mindanao (ARWM).
He pointed out: “I want to know who will sell the Cabatangan property. As far as I am concerned, (it) is a property of ARMM and if the good Mayor says the national government is going to buy it, we don’t have any information, note or letter on this matter.”
“If there is an official letter from the President or the Secretary, we will highly appreciate (and discuss) it,” he said.
The governor was referring to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, whom Mayor Zalazar quoted as telling her thru a text message on June 7 that President Duterte had committed to buy the property.
“We are very pleased to announce I received a text, after an inquiry made last Thursday, from Lorenzana. He said President Duterte said that the national government will buy the Cabatangan property,” Salazar told Zambo reporters.
“It is very important that before the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), these parcels of land are ceded and transferred to the national government as mandated under the Expanded ARMM Law. In turn, the city of Zamboanga is very willing to purchase the same from the national government,” Salazar said, recounting her letter to Lorenzana.
The 72-hectare Cabatangan property, located within the seven-kilometer radius from west coast of Zamboanga City proper, housed the Batasang Pampook (legislature) and Lupong Tagapagpanap ng Pook (executive) of the Western Mindanao Autonomous Region (WMAR).
WMAR and its counterpart Central Mindanao Autonomous Region (CMAR) were created under the Marcos regime in 1977 purportedly to implement its first peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front forged in Tripoli, Libya in 1973. The government of Cory Aquino abolished both WMAR and CMAR in 1989 and established the ARMM.
The Aquino administration named Cotabato City as the “temporary seat” of ARMM, leaving the WMAR seat in Zambo City’s Cabatangan area vacant since 1990. Zambo City officials have since been clamoring to take over the property, with the ARMM government persistently resisting.
The tug-of-war between ARMM and Zambo City governments was widely believed as one of the irritants why loyal followers of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari, who once served as ARMM governor, staged the Zamboanga City siege in 2013.