By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte expressed his intention to talk to Nur Misuari after the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in order to forge a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The MNLF is originally the mother organization of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which broke away from that group soon after Mr. Misuari’s peace agreement with the Marcos regime in the 1970s. Leaders of the MILF will be the administrators in a ratified BOL.
“I hope to talk to him in the coming days as we agreed. Sabi ko tapusin muna natin ito (let’s finish this first)….Then we can resume after the Bangsamoro. I would call out to him, extend my hand in friendship and peace and I hope that we can strike an agreement that will also promote the interest of the MNLF, and the rest of the Moro of Mindanao,” Mr. Duterte said in Cotabato City, during the Peace Assembly for the BOL’s ratification.
Mr. Misuari, the founding chairman of the MNLF, went into hiding for three years following the 2013 Zamboanga siege soon after the MILF’s peace deal with the government, then headed by President Benigno S.C. Aquino III. He has been granted temporary liberty by Mr. Duterte and after posting bail in the Sandiganbayan.
During the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos, Mr. Misuari forged a peace deal with that government to lead the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which a new administration under the ratified BOL will replace.
Messrs. Duterte and Misuari had a discussion on federalism during a private meeting last August, one month after the signing of the BOL.
Mr. Duterte appealed to Mr. Misuari for talks in order to come up with “something that could come to the barest minimum” in order to achieve a peaceful Mindanao.
“May I guarantee you there will be the least disturbance or interference if there is a workable government,” he said.
Mr. Duterte also called on Mindanao voters to ratify the BOL in the plebiscite scheduled on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6.
“I call on my fellow Moro: let us use the plebiscite as peaceful means to finally correct the historical injustice committed against the Bangsamoro people,” he said.
“Let us forget the bitterness of the past, and look forward to the future, which means, ladies and gentlemen, my beloved Moro brother and sister, let us vote yes,” he added.
According to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), about 2.8 million registered vote are expected to participate in the plebiscite.
A survey conducted by International Alert (Alert) Philippines showed 70.8% of 328 respondents, aged 18 to 35 years old, are in favor of ratification, an increase from the 60.4% recorded from a survey conducted in October to November last year.
“This data on youth preference is important because intention to vote is fluid. Even those who declared they will not go to the polls may change their mind before the plebiscite,” Alert’s country manager Nikki de la Rosa said.
Ms. De la Rosa said the rise in youths’ preference of the BOL could be linked to the increase of supporters in the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur.
Respondents who are familiar with the BOL also surged to 93.5% from 84% last year.
“It is also plausible that the campaign period was generally successful in familiarizing the youth with the provisions of the BOL,” Ms. De la Rosa said.
Despite the overall increase of support for ratification, the “no” votes also increased in the cities of Isabela and Cotabato, where resistance to the BOL is anticipated.
The “no” votes in Isabela City increased to 35.6% from 8.8% last year while in Cotabato City it jumped to 32% from 13.6%.
Alert statistician Angelo Casalan said the loss of confidence in the BOL may be due to the New Year’s Eve bombing outside a department store in Cotabato City which claimed two lives and injured 34 others.
Meanwhile, the most pressing issues that the youths said that have to be addressed, regardless of their preference of the BOL, are terrorism, poverty, corruption, crime and unemployment. — with Vann Marlo M. Villegas