BASILAN — Thousands of athletes from four provinces are here since Monday for a regional athletic meet never held anywhere around when the Abu Sayyaf was yet a threat to local security.
The January 28 to February 2 Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional athletic meet in Sumisip, Basilan is also the last since ARMM shall soon be replaced with a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or BARMM.
It is ARMM’s first in this island province since the creation of the autonomous region via a plebiscite in 1990 that resulted in the ratification of its first charter, the Republic Act 6734 that eventually got amended and became RA 9054 through another electoral exercise in 2001.
The contiguous venues of different events involving no fewer than 4,000 athletes from Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi Tawi, and from this province were former bastions of the Abu Sayyaf.
The group, originally a ragtag band of Islamist brigands, first emerged in Basilan in the early 1990s.
It eventually evolved into a Southern Philippine cell of the Islamic State, now feared for its practice of beheading captives if ransom demands are not met.
ARMM’s education secretary, lawyer Rasol Mitmug, Jr., and the region’s chief executive, Gov. Mujiv Hataman, separately said Wednesday that the regional athletic meet is being held in Sumisip town to show that there is peace now the province after of the surrender of almost 300 Abu Sayyaf bandits in the past three years.
Superintendents of schools in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, said they were so apprehensive of the safety of their delegations when Hataman first suggested that he wants the last ARMM athletic meet held in Basilan.
The plan was meant to show to elementary and high school athletes how Basilan, now a component-province of BARMM, has recovered from poverty and underdevelopment due to armed conflicts.
Sumisip town, the host of the ARMM regional athletic meet, is only about 15 kilometers away from Basilan’s hinterland Limbotulan Area and Sampinit Complex, the birthplaces of the Abu Sayyaf.
The founder of the Abu Sayyaf, the late Abduradjak Janjalani, was born and raised in Barangay Tabuk in Isabela City, Basilan’s former capital.
“We eventually realized that there is peace now in Basilan and that there is no threat to us at all,” said Alibai Benito Aliuden, superintendent of Maguindanao’s second schools division.
Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares, director of the Police Regional Office-ARMM, said the conduct in Basilan of the regional athletic meet can correct notions that the island province is unsafe for outsiders.
Mijares said hosting the ARMM athletic meet in Sumisip, Basilan’s largest town, can provide teachers and athletes from outside a good picture of how the regional government’s infrastructure initiatives in the province in the past seven years have dramatically reduced the influence of the Abu Sayyaf on the local communities.
“This sports event involving thousands of athletes from across ARMM will also boost the investment climate of Basilan,” said Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay of Lamitan City, the new capital of Basilan.
The local government of Lamitan City has just forged a large-scale joint Cavendish banana propagation project with the transnational Unifruti company that ships bananas from Southern Philippines to markets in the Middle East and Europe.
Residents of Lamitan City and the 11 towns in Basilan voted for the inclusion of the province into the BARMM during the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law, or BOL, last January 21.
The BOL, or Republic Act 11054, is the enabling measure for ARMM’s replacement with BARMM based on two compacts between the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The BOL, approved last year by the bicameral committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate, is based on two compacts between the national government and the MILF, the 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and, subsequently, the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.
Hataman said he is certain that the BARMM, which has awesome administrative and political powers compared to the ARMM, can usher in more improvements in Basilan’s security situation and economy.