Manila Times Manila/Jolo
Ahead of a historic plebiscite for a new Bangsamoro territory, Mindanao officials are confident communities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will vote for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan of Radjah Buayan town in Maguindanao said other officials were expecting an overwhelming vote for the BOL’s passage on January 21 and February 6.
“The sentiment now is the people want the BOL especially the Muslim communities and it’s going to be ‘yes’ for the whole of ARMM,” Ampatuan, who is in close talks and consultations with key local government officials, told Manila Times.
Ampatuan, former executive director of the Malacanang Muslim Affairs Office, said 11 villages in Radjah Buayan had expressed their commitment to vote for inclusion into the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Despite the petitions filed by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan to block the BOL, Muslim communities would make history days from now, Ampatuan said.
Cotabato City native Polly Gesulga, who had been working to help people living in areas regularly affected by natural disasters and internal and armed conflicts, said it was different in Cotabato.
“It’s a close fight. There are different camps and the mayor herself is clear that she doesn’t want Cotabato to join (the BARMM),” he said.
He, however, urged his Muslim brothers to respect dissenting opinions from Cotabato Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi and locals. They have reportedly been harassed in connection with the upcoming plebiscite.
Gesulga said the trend in Cotabato City was an overwhelming vote for yes.
Territories in the ARMM, including Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will only be asked in their BOL plebiscite ballot if they agree to ratify Republic Act 11054 also known as the “Organic Law for the BARMM.”
Other territories will either be asked the same question and another question asking if they agree to have their city or town join the BARMM or only the latter. The BOL, officially called the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM), is the result of decades-long peace negotiations between the rebel groups in Mindanao, mainly the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Philippine government.
The OLBARMM abolishes the ARMM, established in 1989 through RA 6734 and strengthened in 2001 through RA 9054. It seeks to install a Bangsamoro political entity with wider self-rule in predominantly Muslim provinces and cities.
Critics have called the ARMM a failure, marred by corruption and mismanagement.
Mindanao native Noel Griño, who had plunged into some of the most dangerous areas in the region to introduce the Gawad Kalinga housing project, said only a handful of the Mindanao residents were against the BOL.
This, according to him, was because Muslim communities have longed for decades to have another chance for “lasting” peace.
“It’s giving much hope to the populace. It’s giving them hope because it can give a chance for peace. It’s been 20 years but it’s still the same. It’s either we continue with the current situation or we try a new way that could lead to peace,” he said in an interview. Ampatuan said one of the essential components of the BOL was the end of armed struggle and that it was important that the Moro rebel groups were engaging in talks.
Gesulga said the most important factors for the BOL to be successful were proper implementation, good representation and leadership. Grino shared this sentiment and said he observed that many local government units and agencies were lacking such characteristics.
Amid Sulu’s opposition to the BOL, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr said there was no need to send an appeal to Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan 2nd as the “yes” vote was expected to win.
“That’s how democracy works. There are those who are not for it and there are those who would go for it, that is why the plebiscite will be a good indicator on Monday if whether most people are willing to join the BOL,” Esperon told reporters in Jolo. Esperon said the government would not allow this “historic move for peace and unity” and progress to be spoiled “by people who are not the real representatives of the people of Mindanao.”
Esperon was among the attendees of a grand rally in support of BOL, held at the Mindanao State University Sulu gymnasium.
He was joined by key government officials including Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, Peace Process Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr, and the Moro National Liberation Front’s Haji Yusof Jikiri, among others.
Tan did not join the Cabinet officials and local leaders at the head table.
The grand rally drew some 13,000 residents of Sulu, said officials who attended the event.
Catholic leaders in Mindanao expressed their support for the passage of the BOL, as it “may be the last concrete chance for a just and lasting peace” in southern Philippines.
“In this light, the BOL is more than just another piece of legislation. It is more significantly a peace agreement that involves the future development of Mindanao and the rest of the country,” the
Mindanao Catholic Church Leaders for Peace (MCCLP) said in a statement, issued days before the BOL plebiscite on January 21 and February 6.
The MCCLP, led by Cotabato Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Orlando Quevedo and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, said the diminution of ancestral territory; the threat to cultural identity; and the loss of political governance are the three “historical injustices” against the Muslim community which the BOL seeks to address.
Some 2.8mn registered voters in the region are covered by the plebiscite. The Commission on Elections expects 75% voter participation.
President Rodrigo Duterte has declared January 21 a special non-working holiday in the ARMM, Isabela City in Basilan and Cotabato City.
Residents of Lanao del Norte except Iligan City, and six towns in North Cotabato, meanwhile, will participate in the referendum on February 6.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not see any threat against the upcoming plebiscite.
Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr, AFP chief of staff, said 10,400 soldiers were deployed by the military to secure the plebiscite. Some 1,300 will be deployed to Basilan, which was among the areas he visited on Thursday.
Duterte is expected to speak before a peace assembly in Cotabato City, three days before the January 21 plebiscite.
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