WAO, Lanao del Sur, Sept. 30, 2014—Speaking in behalf of his constituents, a local official from the only predominantly Christian municipality in Lanao de Sur made it clear that his people refuse inclusion in the proposed Bangsamoro entity.
While assuring the public the municipality will not get in the way of the peace talks over Mindanao, Wao Mayor Elvino Balicao Jr. expressed concerns that placing his municipality under the Bangsamoro government is unjust given that some 83% of its population, roughly 30,000 individuals, identify as Christians.
“I hope that whatever the result of the plebiscite will be on the municipal level would be respected by the whole province,” he said.
Balicao explained over Church-run Radyo Veritas that the result of a plebiscite covering the Lanao del Sur province should not be imposed on them.
As a Christian-majority town, the mayor stressed Wao should be allowed to decide for itself, not the province.
“Our case is different. Out of 39 municipalities that make up the province of Lanao del Sur, Wao is the only one that is overwhelmingly Christian,” shared the mayor.
Balicao emphasized that his people do not oppose the rights of Muslim brethren to self-determination and an autonomous political entity.
In an earlier interview with CBCPNews, he boasted that although Wao’s Christians “fully respect the Islamic culture and have peacefully lived side by side with their Muslim brothers from time immemorial”, he pointed out that they choose to “live and practice their culture outside an Islamic autonomous government”.
Balicao expects to be given a chance to represent Wao in a congressional inquiry where he can voice out his reservation on the Bangsamoro entity.
Right to be heard
“Aren’t we a democratic country where everyone has a right to be heard? We hope be heard. It’s the refusal to listen that will eventually imperil the peace process,” said he.
Aside from Balicao, Puerto Princesa Bishop Pedro D. Arigo and Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo T. de la Cruz protested plans to subject their respective sees under the Bangsamoro government.
The mayor shared that the Catholic Church, along with other Christian denominations and non-government organizations (NGO), in Wao support the popular call for exclusion from the Bangsamoro.
Wao is a landlocked town bordered by Kalilangan, Bukidnon to the north; Kalilangan and Pangantucan, Bukidnon to the east; Banisilan, Cotabato to the south; and Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur to the west.
According to the 2010 census, Wao has a population of 40,479, most of whom of Ilonggo descent.
The town is a recipient of the Galing Pook Awards in 2010, Seal of Good Housekeeping in 2012, and has accomplished a number of projects in recent years. (Raymond A. Sebastián)