Cotabato City Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi (left), and Ministry of the Interior and Local Government minister Naguib Sinarimbo (right). (Photos courtesy of Cotabato CIO and BPI-BARMM)

COTABATO CITY – An exchange of accusations and counter-accusations flared up between officials of this city and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) over alleged violations of the enhanced community quarantine against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

In an April 16 statement posted on social media, BARMM officials condemned what it called the “unreasonable acts” of city government officials and the police when they recently held some BARMM front-liners along Sinsuat Avenue here.

“We take such acts as unreasonable, even bordering on the illegal,” the statement said.

In his Facebook page, BARMM interior and local government minister Naguib Sinarimbo posted the same statement, decrying the “unreasonable acts” committed by an unnamed city official and the police against BARMM personnel using vehicles bearing the sticker of the inter-agency task force (IATF) on emerging infectious diseases, as well as the threats and insults reportedly hurled against them.

The BARMM statement further said, “In the guise of an enhanced community quarantine, there is an insidious move to restrict the movement of the workers of the Bangsamoro government, especially those in the front line offering health assistance, welfare aid, and relief supplies.”

It noted that the IATF’s national guidelines, even the ones issued by the city government of Cotabato, allow the unhampered movement of essential government personnel to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 onslaught.

The BARMM cited the March 16 memorandum of the Office of the President through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea that clearly stated, “Work from home arrangement shall be implemented in the Executive Branch, except the PNP, AFP, PCG (Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Coast Guard), and health and emergency front-line services, border control, and other critical services, which shall ensure a skeletal workforce.”

It said the arrested workers on April 13 were part of the designated skeletal force and personnel of the Emergency Operations Center of the Bangsamoro IATF.

The BARMM further said that it strictly adheres to guidelines and issuances of the national IATF.

Based on the updated list of Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APOR) released by the Joint Task Force CV Shield on April 11, those involved in basic services, including medical services, emergency responders, such as members of the BARMM-IATF; social services personnel; company officers and security guards; cargo delivery personnel; government skeletal force of the Executive Branch (various ministries, in the case of BARMM); and other government officials and their support staff, among others, are considered as APOR.

In the same statement, BARMM asked the Cotabato City government and the police to honor, acknowledge, and give due respect to officially-issued identification documents (IDs) of all APOR who work for BARMM.

The BARMM noted that it would resort to legal action if its workers suffer the same humiliation and prevention of movement by the city government.

“We state that should these objectionable acts be committed again, we will take all and every legal action against any erring individual, be they officials or not,” the statement said.

‘IDs, stickers were abused’

However, Cotabato City Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who personally led the apprehension of quarantine pass violators, said, “The issuance of IDs and stickers were abused. We have videos and records to prove it.”

Guiani-Sayadi said a quarantine pass (QP) cannot be used as a working pass (WP) “because a QP is only used to buy essential needs and medicines, in short for marketing purposes.”

“We found out that employees who are not even front-liners are using government ID or Certificate of Employment just to bend the rules on ECQ. Who are these front-liners? Who are these skeletal staff people? Is a staff of a library considered a front-liner?” she told reporters here in an interview.

Guiani-Sayadi added that some government vehicles with BARMM-IATF on Covid-19 stickers carry children and senior citizens.

“They should review their guidelines. They should not get angry if I am implementing our guidelines because even the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recognizes the rights of local government units to formulate their own guidelines, provided it is not contrary to the national rules, I am just putting everything in order,” she said.

Sinarimbo said BARMM front-liners are no longer required to get working pass from the City Hall based on a DILG Advisory dated April 11.

“What the BARMM front-liners need to show is their proof of Identification or certification issued by their corresponding offices and not by the City Hall. Included in such order are skeletal force front-liners of the BARMM needed for the smooth flow of government services,” he said. “If there abusive authorities forcing you (front-liners) to attend to your work, tell us so appropriate charges could be filed against them in court.“

Cotabato City, which plays host as the provisional seat of the BARMM, voted for inclusion in the fledging region in last year’s plebiscite but the city government questioned the referendum results before the Supreme Court.

Since then, the city government and the BARMM leadership have been at odds, occasionally trading barbs on social media.

BARMM consists of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, Lamitan; and the 63 villages in six towns of North Cotabato that opted to join the fledging region. (PNA)