Duterte to join campaign for BOL approval

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By Tajallih S. Basman, Correspondent

COTABATO CITY — Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim expressed confidence in the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) given the vigorous campaign that various sectors have been conducting in the past weeks.

For his part, President Rodrigo R. Duterte is scheduled to appear in Cotabato City on Friday to attend a “Peace Assembly for the Ratification of the Republic Act No. 11054 or the BOL,” according to his spokesman, Salvador S. Panelo.

Mr. Murad said in a telephone interview on Monday, “I am confident. I have personally gone to the entire area of the current provinces of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). I went to the island provinces as well as the mainland areas. I saw that as far as the people are concerned, their support to the BOL is overwhelming.”

He still acknowledged the “challenge” posed by opposition to the law that will create the expanded Bangsamoro ARMM (BARMM), particularly in the cities of Isabela and Cotabato and the “add-on” areas in Cotabato province and Lanao del Norte.

All these areas are currently outside the ARMM jurisdiction.

Mr. Murad said he believes that “majority of the voters will vote yes.”

“We have been consistently conducting dialogues with opposition groups and we made them understand that the BOL serves everyone — not only MILF, MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), Muslims, but everyone. We have explained its benefits for the areas which will be included in the BARMM,” he added.

The MILF and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) have been campaigning for the law, which is subject to a plebiscite, since late last year, together with several civil society groups.

“BOL represents the aspirations of the Bangsamoro,” Mr. Murad said. “As separate people, we need our identity acknowledged.”

“It is a fact that the region is rich in natural resources. However, the poverty incidence here remains high,” he added. “BOL addresses these concerns since there are specific provisions for this issue.”

Mr. Duterte’s part in the campaign will be two days before the first plebiscite scheduled on Jan. 21 in the ARMM and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela. The remaining areas will hold their plebiscite on Feb. 6.

“The President himself has been very persistent in the ratification of the BOL. We hope that it will be a big help for the inclusion of Cotabato City in BARMM,” Mr. Murad said.

For his part, Mr. Panelo said if “the overwhelming majority or even a slight majority says ayaw nila (they do not like it), the President cannot do anything but to comply with the sovereign voice of the people in Mindanao.”

Sought for comment, political history assistant professor Marlon B. Lopez of the Mindanao State University-Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography said in a phone message: “There is no question of Duterte’s popularity being a factor to BOL’s ratification. Most posters campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote…bear Duterte’s face. Just having the face of Duterte in posters favorable to BOL is more than enough, plus proclamations would be a resounding ‘Yes.’”

Mr. Lopez pointed out there is “quite a problem particularly with Cotabato City because Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi publicly declared her negative stance on the BOL, and this has (caused) doubts over the BOL ratification on non-ARMM territories.”

Asked if Mr. Duterte’s presence in Cotabato City on Friday may help change the sentiments towards the BOL of Ms. Sayadi’s supporters, Mr. Lopez said: “It will. But having an understanding of the Cotabato City politics and society, it is difficult to see the city being under the Bangsamoro. There is a slim possibility of it (joining the new region).”

“The resistance of large Local Government Units (cities and municipalities) to be under the BARMM can be felt but suppressed due to popular affirmative opinion on it. I believe politics will play its part,” he said. — with Arjay L. Balinbin