By Francis Wakefield
Thousands of delegates took part in the “Cotabato Yes to Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL)” Assembly held at the provincial gymnasium in Amas, Kidapawan City, Cotabato on Saturday, to air their full support for the BOL.
Former rebel fighters, public servants, representatives of civil society, peace advocates, and residents of North Cotabato sat side by side as they declared their unequivocal support for the BOL.
“The BOL is not only for the Moro people but for all. The law is for the tri-people of Mindanao,” said Muslimin Sema, chairman of the Bangsamoro People National Congress.
Sema, who is also a former mayor of Cotabato City, said the BOL was crafted through the collaborative effort of Muslims, Christians, and indigenous peoples (IPs).
“This is now a chance to leave the conflict behind. We must all hold on together,” he said.
For his part, Carmen Mayor Roger Taliño said the BOL will be the key to fostering peace and harmony among the people.
“We want to achieve sustainable peace [resulting in] more progressive communities,” he said.
Taliño said there was no reason for him to “hold back” barangays in the municipality that want to be part of the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or BARMM.
He said he wanted to give the Moro people the chance to participate in the “full implementation of the BOL.”
According to Pigcawayan Mayor Eliseo Garcesa Jr., the participation of residents from across the province was a concrete manifestation of their full support for the landmark measure.
“The whole province of Cotabato is here. The size of the crowd here is as big as our love for peace,” Garcesa said.
“We need to unite. We need to support peace. We need to support the BOL,” he added.
At the same event, Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said the BOL will ensure inclusiveness and equality among the tri-people of the region.
“If not, there will be distrust among the people,” Taliño warned, recalling the armed conflict she witnessed as a child growing up in the province.
“I don’t want my children to experience what I went through,” she said.
Taliño said the people should be able to vote freely in the coming plebiscite.
“This (BOL) will give way to long-lasting peace in Cotabato. Mabuhay ang Bangsamoro Organic Law,” Taliño said as she declared her full support for the ratification of the BOL.
For Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Commissioner Abdulrauf Macacua, the BOL is “a document of peace and development.”
Macacua said the law “contained everything that would be needed to ensure sustainable economic development in the region.”
The BOL, he added, was an instrument of unity because it recognizes the identity of Muslims, Christians, and the Lumad.
“We need peace. Please vote for BOL,” he said.
In his message, Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Nabil Tan said the BOL recognizes all signed peace agreements between the Philippine Government and the various Moro fronts.
He said this was the reason President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the reconstitution of the BTC so that it would include representatives from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
To recall, the Philippine Government and MNLF signed the Final Peace Agreement in 1996.
In 2014, the national government inked the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ending more than 40 decades of armed conflict with the rebel group.
Tan said under the BARMM, the new regional government will have greater access to financial resources such as the Block Grant and the Special Development Fund that will allow the region to catch up with its more progressive counterparts.
“Peace and development will be sustainable because there will be livelihood and economic opportunities for all,” he said.
For his part, MILF Chair Ebrahim Murad said the proposed inclusion of 39 barangays in North Cotabato to the BARMM is a recognition of the communities that were part of the decades-long armed struggle.
Murad said he does not want to make their supporters feel they were being left behind.
“The BOL is the product of more than 40 years of armed struggle. [The law’s passage] will let people enjoy the fruits of the struggle,” Murad said.
He also said the passage of the BOL will be advantageous to all due to a provision in the law which states that the BARMM will also provide assistance to communities in contiguous areas.
“This [law] is not only for the Bangsamoro people but for all. It will bring peace, development, and prosperity,” Murad said.
For his part, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the BOL during his visits to the island-provinces of Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi-Tawi.
Galvez said the BOL assembly in Jolo was participated in by over 12,000 residents from across the province.
He said he reported this milestone to President Duterte during the recent Cabinet cluster meeting in Malacañang.
“I have never seen that before,” he said, recalling his stint as WestMinCom Commander during which he also attended peace rallies.
Galvez said he is hopeful the BOL will be ratified so that “no one will cry and die due to war.”
“The (BOL) will finally put an end to the armed conflict in Mindanao. Let us decide where we want to go. Let us say yes to BOL,” he said.