TWO PROVINCES in two regions in Mindanao stand to lose parts of their areas as towns and villages cast their votes on Wednesday on whether or not to be part of the new Bangsamoro region.
Abdullah Camlian, a representative of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), said the intent of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is not to divide but introduce changes that would bring meaningful development and a chance for “the Bangsamoro people to achieve their aspirations.”
The BOL provides for the formation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that will replace the existing ARMM. The five provinces of ARMM, which form BARMM’s core area, and Cotabato City ratified the BOL in the Jan. 21 plebiscite.
“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’ (that is why in this coming plebiscite, let us vote for yes),” Mr. Camlian said at a Peace Assembly held last Monday in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte.
The municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Panta, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte are participating in today’s BOL referendum, with 352,494 registered voters based on Commission on Elections (Comelec) data.
That voter number comprise more than half of the 676,395 total population of Lanao del Norte as of the 2015 census.
“… [W]e are hopeful that because this is a politically active area historically, we expect that we’ll have a turnout of at least better than 70%,” Comelec Spokesperson James B. Jimenez told reporters in a press briefing on Tuesday at the poll body’s headquarters in Manila.
Top officials of Lanao del Norte, which forms part of Northern Mindanao, have been campaigning for a “no” vote.
Governor Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo, Vice-Governor Maria Cristy N. Atay and some members of the provincial board, according to the provincial information office, went around the barangays to conduct an information campaign and push for their stance.
“The provincial leaders, municipal mayors and the two district representatives have stood as one in saying NO to inclusion and NO to division for the good of the people of the province of Lanao del Norte, where Muslims and Christians have peacefully coexisted for so long a time,” the provincial government said in a Jan. 31 statement.
Lawyer Anna Tarhata S. Basman, former head of the government panel’s legal team that facilitated the peace process with MILF, explained that most of the local government units (LGUs) participating in the plebiscite “have voted in the past to join the Autonomous Region (ARMM) but have been voted down by their mother LGUs.”
“In the case of Lanao del Norte, since what we’re dealing with are six municipalities, the BOL says that the entire province of LDN will have to consent to its six municipalities joining the BARMM,” she told BusinessWorld.
Ms. Basman clarified, however, that “it is not the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial board) or the Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) that will give the consent, it is the voters.”
Such consent would be reflected in the ballots.
It’s a different story in Cotabato province — also still referred to by its old official name North Cotabato — where local officials have expressed support for the BOL.
An initial 39 barangays in six towns of Cotabato are covered by the plebiscite, with 321,489 registered voters.
The six municipalities are: Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan, and Pikit.
An additional 28 contiguous barangays, within the six towns plus Tulunan, were approved for inclusion by the Comelec.
“In the case of North Cotabato, since what we are dealing with here are barangays, their mother municipalities will have to give the consent. So it’s the seven municipalities in North Cot that will participate in the plebiscite,” Ms. Basman said.
Cotabato, under the South Cotabato-Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos City (SOCCSKSARGEN) region, has a population of about 1.374 million as of 2015.
At an assembly organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in early January at the capital Kidapawan City, Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said she sees the BOL providing inclusiveness and equality among Mindanao’s indigenous people, Muslims and Christians who are also represented within the province.
“This (BOL) will give way to long-lasting peace in Cotabato,” she said as she recalled witnessing armed conflict as a child growing up in the province. “I don’t want my children to experience what I went through.”
Ms. Mendoza also called on voters to cast their votes with the next generations in mind.
Most young voters in the two provinces who will take part in today’s plebiscite are in favor of inclusion in the BARMM, according to a survey by International Alert Philippines. In a statement released Monday, the non-government group said 71% of the youth in Lanao Del Norte and 83% in Cotabato are expected to cast a yes vote. Respondents of the study, who were 18-35 years old, included 355 from Lanao Del Norte and 209 from Cotabato.
Knowledge of the BOL has lately been high among respondents at 98% in both provinces, up from 2018’s 64% in Lanao del Norte and 86% in Cotabato, according to International Alert Statistician Angelo Casalan.
International Alert, however, noted that the youth make up only 45% of the total voting demographic in the two provinces as opposed to 57% in the ARMM.
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. — a retired military general who served many years in restive parts of Mindanao — has expressed respect for differences in opinion as he appealed to stakeholders’ “commitment for a peaceful and orderly plebiscite” to uphold “democratic ideals.”
Speaking at a BOL information forum last Feb. 2 in Iligan City, an independent component city within Lanao del Norte, Mr. Galvez said, “I earnestly hope that our votes truly reflect our sentiments for peace and development in the Bangsamoro.” — Marifi S. Jara, Tajallih S. Basman and Gillian M. Cortez