Tomorrow's plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law—the first of two electoral processes—will be a moment of truth for all stakeholders who have pinned their hopes on the measure to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.
The BOL, the product of peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that began in 1996, will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with the new Bangsamoro region that has greater political and fiscal autonomy.
Efforts leading to today’s historic vote spanned four presidencies, starting from then President Fidel Ramos, who began negotiations in 1996, to President Rodrigo Duterte who signed the law in July 2018.
“Your approval of this law will not only serve as an expression of your desire to end more than half a century of armed struggle in the region. It will also serve as a testament to your determination to bring genuine peace and development in Muslim Mindanao through an autonomous government that truly represents and understands the needs of the people,” the President said during a peace assembly in Cotabato City over the weekend.
The plebiscite will take place in the ARMM areas, Isabela City in Basilan, and Cotabato City, while the Feb. 6 plebiscite will be held in six municipalities in Lanao del Norte (except Iligan City) and eight towns in North Cotabato (Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Matalam, Midsayap, Pigcawayan, Pikit and Tulunan)—covering a total of 2,839,659 registered voters.
MILF chairman and now Bangsamoro Transition Authority chief minister Murad Ebrahim described the BOL as “the last chance to attaining lasting peace.”
“This law is not only for the Bangsamoro people but for all,” said Murad, who, as BTC chief minister, will oversee the transition period until the first local elections are held in 2022.
Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez, for his part, urged all residents in the envisioned Bangsamoro area to cast their votes.
“This political exercise is an opportunity for them to assert their identity and choose their own destiny. By casting their vote, they are re-defining the Moro narrative as well as charting the future of Mindanao,” he said.
The salient points of the BOL are:
• The Bangsamoro region will have a parliamentary-democratic form of government. Residents will elect an 80-member parliament representing different parties, districts and sectors. The parliament will elect a chief minister and two deputy chief ministers. The chief minister shall appoint members of his Cabinet.
• The region will have an automatic allocation of an annual block grant, equivalent to 5 percent of the net national internal revenue of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs. The national government will also earmark P5 billion annually for 10 years for the rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas within the Bangsamoro area.
• From the current 70 percent, the region’s share in government revenue taxes, fees, and taxes imposed on natural resources shall increase to 75 percent.
• The national government will remain responsible for the defense and security of the Bangsamoro area. Members of the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front may be admitted to the police force.
• Shari’ah courts will retain jurisdiction over cases exclusively involving Muslims in the region. Tribal laws will still apply to disputes of indigenous peoples within the region.