By Francis Wakefield
Ulama (Islamic scholars) and Christian leaders recently led an interfaith forum in Isabela City, Basilan to educate the residents on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
The forum was held several weeks before the plebiscite scheduled on January 21, 2019 in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Cotabato City and Isabela City for the ratification of the BOL.
For Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and the areas that filed their petitions to join the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) granted by the Comelec, the plebiscite will be on February 6..
The residents of this city, which is currently not part of the current ARMM, will be asked in the plebiscite if they are willing to include Isabela in the future Bangsamoro government.
Organizers of the event highlighted the fact that the BOL is not a religious issue but a political solution.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, archbishop emeritus of Cotabato, said the main purpose of the forum was to provide the residents here “an understanding about the BOL to achieve an informed decision during the plebiscite.”
“I am for BOL. Why? because there’s a win-win solution for all. It addresses the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro people; it recognizes the territorial sovereignty of the country, and the rights of minorities,” he told thousands of people inside the Basilan National High School Gymnasium.
Quevedo said the BOL underscores the principle of common good, which consists of three important aspects: no discrimination, no exclusion, and fairness and equity.
He advised Christian communities to be discerning when it comes to the information peddled against the BOL.
Quevedo said the BOL respects religious freedom, quoting a provision that says the people living inside the Bangsamoro territory are “free to undertake activities pursuant to their religious activities and values.”
Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF Implementing Peace Panel, explained the benefits of the BOL, saying that the intention of the law is to achieve genuine autonomy as a self-governing entity.
“The BOL was not given to us in a silver platter. We paid for it through our blood, sweat and tears,” he said.
He said indications of real autonomy entity is “having political power — and BOL provides 55 powers of the Bangsamoro government; and fiscal autonomy or access to the resources.”
Iqbal said the ratification of the BOL will address the political clamor that the Bangsamoro people have been pushing for years.
“War is temporary. Peace is final,” he said as he thanked the President Rodrigo Duterte for shepherding the passage of the BOL.
For his part, ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said it is “very important for Isabela to join the Bangsamoro government.”
“The face of Basilan is Isabela City. We fear that Isabela will be left behind if they will not join the Bangsamoro,” he said.
“This is very important because Christians here could listen directly from Cardinal Quevedo clarifying unfounded fears regarding the BOL,” he added.
“But at the end of the day, it is the decision of the people if they want to join or not. At least, the interfaith forum provides them accurate information so that when they make decision it is based on correct information,” Hataman said.
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said the BOL was anchored on the Duterte administration’s principle of inclusivity.
“What does this mean? It means the BOL is a law that would benefit everyone regardless of ideology, tribe, or religion,” he said.
“More importantly, the law gives due recognition to the identity of all residents living within the Bangsamoro territory. So whether you are a Moro, Christian, or Lumad, rest assured that your rights and welfare will be protected,” he added.
Galvez, who successfully established a good relationship with the MILF when he was the commander of the military’s 104th Brigade in Basilan, said the BOL is the culmination of “our efforts to give our Moro brothers and sisters the opportunity to take ownership of the landmark measure and finally achieve our dream of genuine and meaningful self-governance.”
As the new peace adviser, Galvez vowed to push the ratification of the BOL.
“Now I am standing here as a brother of peace, making sure the peace agreement is well implemented — starting with the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” he said.
Speakers of the forum included Bangsamoro Transition Commission commissioner Susana Anayati and Dr. Aboulkhair Tarason, chairman of the Basilan Ulama Supreme Council.