By Francis Wakefield and Keith Bacongco
On the eve of the holding of the second plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the people of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato threw their full support behind the ratification of the BOL.
The second plebiscite scheduled today, February 6, 2019, covers Lanao del Norte and the municipalities in North Cotabato where a total of 67 barangays are proposed for inclusion in the mandated Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Malacañang has declared February 6 a special non-working day in the plebiscite areas.
A resounding “yes” thundered inside the municipal gym in Kapatagan, Lanao fel Norte where thousands of constituents attended the Peace Assembly on the BOL held on Tuesday.
Assistant Secretary Dickson Hermoso of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said the landmark legislation is part of the Duterte administration’s commitment to build lasting peace in Mindanao.
“The President wants the aspirations of the Bangsamoro to materialize and he’s the only President that can understand it,” he said.
He explained that with the ratification of the BOL, combatants from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will be decommissioned.
Development programs and projects will be provided for the Bangsamoro region.
MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commissioner Abdullah Camlian said the BOL may be the last chance for the Bangsamoro people to achieve their aspirations.
“I-set aside natin ang ating personal interest. We want to change the status quo and reset the mindset of the people. Now an inclusive law is in our hands, kaya naman po sa plebisito, bumoto tayo ng yes [Let us set aside our personal interests. We want to change the status quo and reset the mindset of the people. An inclusive law is now in our hands that is why in this coming plebiscite, let us vote for yes],” he said.
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Bangsamoro Transition Commissioner Omar Yasser Sema urged the people to stay vigilant during the plebiscite.
“BOL promises a democratic process as an alternative to the armed struggle that we have waged for the last 50 years. Take part in the plebiscite. Let us show them that the democratic process is true to its full extent and meaning,” Sema said.
The Peace Assembly in Lanao del Norte was part of the commitment of the OPAPP with the Commission on Elections to carry out a series of education campaigns across the areas covered by the polls to help voters make an informed decision in the plebiscite.
Also present were Munai Municipal Mayor Casan Maquiling and Maigo Municipal Mayor Rafael Rizalda, and Col. Aguam Malo Mutia, the mayoral representative from Tangkal; as well as representatives of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, Lanao Youth Council, Civil Society Organization Forum for Peace, Lanao Norte Peace Advocate Alliance, and MRRD-Lanao del Norte.
BOL not perfect but best option
ALEOSAN, Cotabato Province – A former mayor of this conflict-affected town believes that the plebiscite in the seven towns here is a crucial factor in addressing the years of animosity as well as the gaps in current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Loreto Cabaya Jr, who was then the mayor of this town at the height of the 2008 war, believes that the inadequacies of the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or Republic Act 6734 may have fueled the sporadic clashes because of their continued quest for genuine autonomy and self-determination.
“With the signing of Republic Act 11054 or Bangsamoro Organic Law by President Duterte that repealed the ARMM Law, a brighter future for the region is already beckoning over the horizon,” he added.
It was 10 years ago when government forces and the MILF fighters engaged in a major battle.
It all started in this town, in Barangay Dungguan that was a known lair of the MILF fighters under the late Ameril Ombra Kato.
Kato and his men attacked civilian communities and military posts after the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which contains the proposed territories that the Moro people claim as their ancestral domains and was known as the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.
The fighting escalated in the neighboring towns of Maguindanao province and led to the displacement of over 600, 000 villagers. It was said to be the biggest displacement in a single event in the history of Mindanao conflict.
For several weeks, Cabaya led the civilian volunteers, police, and military in defending the villages from the marauding MILF fighters.
It was also in this town that the Christian vigilante group known as Ilaga (rats) resurfaced to defend their communities.
But years of peace process, including grassroots dialogue, have eased the tension among Christians and Muslims, the relationship of which has been wedged due to years of animosity.
This town was one of the battlegrounds of the government forces and Moro rebels since the 1970s.
Today, residents of this town alongside those of Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pikit, Pigcawayan, will decide on the fate of the barangays of Dunguan, Lower Mingading, Pagangan, and Tapodoc. “On February 6, the people of Cotabato province will speak up for peace.”
These are among the 67 villages that are included in the proposed BARMM.
The former mayor believes that once the provisions are properly implemented, Muslims will have a better hand in plotting out their own destiny and in preserving their own way of life in accordance with the Shariah Law.
However, Cabaya still believes that the BOL may not completely resolve the decades-old conflict in the Bangsamoro region but it is absolutely an important step toward regional autonomy of the Moro people.
“Its aim is not to make the situation worse or to exacerbate the tension in the area. Its goal is to restructure the failed system of the former ARMM. President Duterte will not risk his political capital for a futile endeavor. He’s always for what’s good for the people of Mindanao. While I agree that there’s no perfect solution to every problem, at least we offer the best option at hand,” he concluded.