"It is opposed to what the people of Muslim Mindanao have dreamed of. It will divide instead of unite our people," Governor Zaldy Ampatuan told IslamOnline.net on Monday, April 10.
Muslim MPs Gerry Salapuddin of Basilan province and Hussin Amin of Sulu province introduced the bill to the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Philippine Congress, in March.
The proposal seeks to revive the Sultanate of Sulu, which once ruled the southern corridor.
"The long history of the people of the Sulu archipelago has left an indelible mark in their culture and tradition. While they share the same religion as the Maranaos, Maguindanaoans and other Muslims in Mindanao, they are a people apart with their own tongues, customs, traditions and ways of thinking," it reads.
If pushed through and approved, the bill would slice away the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Basilan from the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which is also made up of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao provinces and the Islamic City of Marawi.
The mineral-rich southern region of Mindanao is home to about 5 million Muslims.
Governor Ampatuan said consultations should have been made before submitting the bill to include all sectors of the region.
"The people of ARMM, the leaders of ARMM, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and so on should have been asked about this before hand," he told IOL.
"If it is what the people wants, we will support it."
The governor added that such a move runs counter to the spirit of the law that created the region in August 1989, which aimed to provide Muslims in Mindanao the freedom to live with their own set of laws based on their faith.
The region has been carved out of Mindanao to end years of unrest and conflict that has ravaged the island in the 70's.
It enjoys having its own executive and legislative departments.
Caosur Zoudy, a resident of the region, said the bill appears to be motivated by politics rather than by the desire to improve the lives of the people. "It seems to me that the bill was raised so as to wrest control of our region away from Gov. Ampatuan who was not supported by Salapuddin and Amin in last year's polls," he told IOL. "This must all be politics."
Political or not, Yusuf Karim, a college student, believes that the region's leaders should focus on bringing basic social services to the people instead of debating on splitting it or not.
"What do we need right now? Will dividing our region make us have better lives? Are we going to have food, clothing, shelter and medicines?" Karim asks.
"This will not be easy. The MILF is tackling the ancestral domain issue. We still have to wait for the outcome of the negotiations.
"A lot of players are involved here. We should not be busying ourselves with this."
The Manila government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have signed several agreements on the ancestral domain in Mindanao - its concept, territories and resources - and how the MILF shall govern these places.
Ancestral domain refers to the MILF demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.
It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the MILF can reach a political settlement.
For Hadji Najim, a father of two, "it would be too impractical for us to go over this. How much will we spend for the plebiscite?"
He believes the money should instead "be spent for rebuilding our homes, for our livelihood.
"We have been victimized by guns and bombs. I hope our leaders realize that what we need is peace and prosperity, nothing else."