By Francis Wakefield
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana Tuesday said that the incoming Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebiscite, the mid-term elections in May, and the row in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) or South China Sea, are among the challenges they are facing in 2019.
In a press briefing following the joint Department of National Defense-Armed Forces of the Philippines (DND-AFP) New Year’s call at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Lorenzana said for the first half of 2019, the BOL plebiscite and the midterm elections in May 13, 2019, are their main focus to ensure that both exercises will be shielded from violence.
“The challenges for us for the six months is una iyung plebisito, dahil maliban sa Cotabato at Isabela, meron ding anim na bayan sa Lanao del Norte na gustong sumali dun sa BOL ngunit ayaw naman na pumayag iyung boung probinsya ng Lanao [first the plebiscite, because aside from Cotabato and Isabela, there are also six towns in Lanao del Norte who wants to join the BOL but the whole province of Lanao doesn’t want to agree],” Lorenzana said.
“The whole Lanao del Norte province will vote. If kung mag yes sila na aalis, aalis na iyung anim. Kung nag vote ang buong probinsya ng no then they remain as part of Lanao Norte [If they vote yes to leave, the six will leave. if the whole province voted no then they remain as part of Lanao Norte].”
“So that will be the challenges plus some barangays in Cotabato,” he added.
Lorenzana said the situation is the same with 39 other barangays.
Following the plebiscite, the DND chief said their focus will be in helping the Philippine National Police (PNP) secure the midterm elections this May.
“So these are the challenges that we are facing this first half of our, of the year. Itong plebisito and then after that iyung [The plebiscite and then after that the] midterm election,” Lorenzana said.
“Kung manalo iyung plebisito naging yes iyan [If the plebiscite win and it turned out yes] the next step will be how to implement the BOL,” he said.
The defense chief said a decommissioning of the firearms of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will take place upon the implementation of BOL.
“How they are going to, are we going to accept these people as part of the Armed Forces or whatever, so decommissioning and the disarming of the MILF fighters (will follow).”
There are two scheduled plebiscite dates for the BOL. The first one will be held on January 21 covering the entire ARMM, and the cities of Isabela and Cotabato. The second is on February 6, which will cover the provinces in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato.
Aside from the plebiscite and midterm elections, Lorenzana said they also have to deal with the WPS issue with China.
“It’s (WPS row) still a challenge. Although all the claimants there are in status quo, walang galawan [no movement], wherever you are don’t move, allow the fishermen of all countries to fish in the area. So that’s it,” Lorenzana said.