Cotabato City, Philippines
A heavy majority in the southern Philippines voted in favor of a ratifying a law giving Muslims in the region full autonomy through a historic plebiscite held earlier this week, according to certified results released late Friday by elections officials.
The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was “deemed ratified,” the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said, as officials released figures showing that more than 1.5 million registered voters had cast “yes” ballots for the law’s ratification versus nearly 200,000 who had voted against it.
President Rodrigo Duterte had signed the law in July 2018, and it was placed before voters in Muslim-majority areas of the south through a referendum held Monday.
Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the former rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), told BenarNews he was happy with the outcome of the vote.
“This is what we are waiting for. We thank all the people who supported us. Rest assured we will implement pro-people programs,” Jaafar said.
The elections commission said that Cotabato City – long considered the administrative capital of Muslims in the south – would also be part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which would replace an old political entity called the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that has been described as a “failed experiment.”
The island of Basilan farther south, the traditional home of Muslim militants including the Abu Sayyaf Group, voted overwhelmingly for the region, according to figures from Comelec.
But the city of Isabela, on Basilan, opposed its inclusion in the new region. There were 22,441 ‘yes’ votes counted against 19,032 ‘no’ votes, according to official figures that Comelec posted on its Twitter feed on Friday night.
Ebrahim Murad, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, casts his vote during a plebiscite on ratifying a law that would give Muslims full autonomy in a new Bangsamoro homeland, at an elementary School in Sultan Kudarat town, in Maguindanao province, Jan. 21, 2019. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]
Another referendum will be held on Feb. 6 for the residents of nearby Lanao del Norte province and six municipalities in North Cotabato province, although the results are widely expected to favor the new autonomous region.
Naguib Sinarimbo, leader of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), the political party of the MILF, welcomed the ratification, which he said would usher in an era of prosperity in the region where many areas still remained mired in poverty and violence from various militant groups.
“We would like to congratulate the Bangsamoro people for delivering the resounding ‘yes’ vote,” he said. “We would also thank the countless number of party workers who sacrificed and worked so hard to ensure that we win this plebiscite.”
President Duterte approved the law four years after the MILF signed a peace deal with Manila, and dropped their separatist rebellion in favor of expanded autonomy.
In rallying for ratification of the law, Duterte said last week that its implementation would help end bloodshed that had prevented the south from advancing economically. He noted that nearly a half-century of rebellion had left thousands dead and stunted the growth of the mineral-rich south.
The Bangsamoro law gives the south an expanded autonomous area, offering self-determination to four million Filipino Muslims by empowering them to elect their own parliament.
BOL also gives the people in parts of the southern Philippines that have an Islamic majority control over many local government functions, including taxation and education, and allows Muslim Filipinos to incorporate Sharia law into their justice system.Froilan Gallardo contributed to this report from Cagayan de Oro city, Philippines.