Iligan City serves as the gateway to Lanao del Norte on its eastern end. Approaching it by sea (Lanao has no plane flights) one will have the immediate impression of hills and mountains rising just from the water’s edge. Entering Lanao del Norte via Tubod (the capital and secondary seaport) or Mukas, Kolambugan (the gateway from Ozamis City) which are both located near its western end the impression of a visitor will be the same. Lanao del Norte possesses just one small coastal plain centered around the town of Kapatagan (what a suggestive name!) on its western end.
Lanao del Norte’s main road hugs its northern shore and it is part of the Cagayan de Oro City-Pagadian City highway. It passes through Iligan City, Linamon, Kauswagan (scene of the recent fighting), Bacolod (namesake of the city in Negros Occidental), Maigo, Kolambugan (another scene of recent fighting and the biggest Moro town in the northern Lanao shores before but now Christian-dominated), Tubod (the new capital after Iligan City), Baroy (the site of the provincial high school), Lala and Kapatagan (where surrendered Huks were relocated in the ’50s). All of the mentioned town are now Christian-dominated.
Another main road branches south from Iligan City connecting it to Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur. It passes through Balo-i (a half-Christian, half-Muslim town which is the site of the moribund airport and most of the generating plants of the Maria Cristina hydroelectric power complex) and Pantar (which is Muslim-dominated).
Outside of the highways the towns of Tagoloan (which is accessible during the dry season only using mainly 4-wheel drives), Poona Piagapo, Pantao Ragat, Munai, Tangcal, Nunungan, Sapad and Sultan Naga Dimaporo (formerly known as Caromatan and lair of the legendary Ali Dimaporo, the grandfather of the current governor and father of the congressman) which are all Muslim-dominated and needs “visas” (special permits from powerful persons) before one can visit. Aside from these towns the off-the main-road, half-Christian, half-Muslim towns of Matungao, Magsaysay and Salvador exists.
The Muslim-dominated towns normally provide the electoral cushion for the Dimaporos to continuously rule the province though the Muslim are the minority in the province. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Iligan City, as a Highly Urbanized City and 90% Christian doesn’t vote in provincial elections though it constitutes 36% of the population of the province.
The Muslim-dominated towns and the Muslim portion of the half-Christian, half-Muslim towns are also the strongholds of the MILF. But I will hasten to add that the Dimaporos and the MILF do not see eye-to-eye since the Dimaporos fought on the side of Marcos since he came into power. The roads to these towns are generally very rough. It is not an unusual sight to see weapon carrier-type of jeeps in these localities.
Aside from the towns centers, in general the flat portion of the province is only one barangay deep. And once the elevation climbs it is already Muslim territory. Hence, aside from the town centers and the small coastal plain of Kapatagan-Lala the Christian territory only encompasses the barangays alongside the main road that hugs the northern coast. And in many places along the main road especially along the mouths of the rivers (a historical gateway to the interior Muslim towns) a cluster of Muslim barangays exists, localities that they controlled since the Spanish times. In these enclaves it is usually the crescent flag that flies and some of the checkpoints are not government checkpoints. In times of fighting this is the reason why evacuees prefer the sea route in going to Iligan City or Ozamis City which are government strongholds.
If the MOA-AD is followed and the Muslim-dominated areas are transferred to the BJE it is clear that Lanao del Norte will lose about 80% of its territory and more than a third of its population (like in Iligan City which stands to lose 84% of its territory if its 8 upland barangays is transferred to the BJE). This is not as simple as it sounds since the size of the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) is calibrated using the population size and territory as factors. In short it would also mean penury to the remaining entity and Lanao del Norte will probably look like a collection of enclaves in a map.
I suspect this will also be the situation in the other provinces where there is a sizable Muslim minority. They might be a minority in number but they sit on the bigger tracts of land. And in that bigger tracts of land probably lies the exploitable natural resources. And it seems part of the vociferous opposition to the MOA-AD by Messrs. Lobregat, Pinol and Cruz resides in these.
(Map credit: globalpinoy)