Since the passage of Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) last July, all sectors involved in the peace process in Mindanao have been steadily preparing for the Bangsamoro plebiscite scheduled to be held on January 21 next year.
On the part of the government, the head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Jesus Dureza met with representatives of the European Union on Nov. 6 in Pasig to discuss the EU’s possible participation as an election monitoring body for the said plebiscite in January.
According to a press statement released by the OPAPP, both Dureza, who was recently appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as a special envoy to the EU, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had recommended the EUP to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as an election monitor in the coming plebiscite.
The OPAPP said the EU plans to “conduct an exploratory mission to the Philippines as part of its initial preparations for the requested election observation task.”
During the meeting, the OPAPP officials briefed the EU representatives on the government’s and other stakeholders’ preparations for the plebiscite.
According to the BOL, the Bangsamoro plebiscite will be held in all areas of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), six towns in Lanao del Norte, 39 barangays in North Cotabato, Cotabato City, the city of Isabela in Basilan and other contiguous areas whose local governments have opted to participate in the ratification of the BOL.
The BOL also allows areas adjacent to the Bangsamoro region the opportunity to join with an opt-in petition of at least 10% of their registered voters.
Even as the OPAPP was meeting with EU representatives, the MILF chairman was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to discuss the latest developments in the peace process in the Philippines with Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr. Yousef Al Othaimeen on Nov 6.
In a press statement released by the OIC, the two officials discussed “the forthcoming plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law.”
According to the OIC, the Secretary General “welcomed this development and urged all parties to remain fully committed to the process.”
The MILF chairman and the OIC Secretary General also discussed plans for the OIC official’s visit to Mindanao.
While the other two main stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process met with foreign officials, the other Moro faction, the Moro National Liberation Front had already pledged to carry out an “aggressive information campaign” in support of the BOL.
This commitment was made when top MNLF officials met with Sec. Dureza in Davao City on Oct. 30.
A statement released by the OPAPP said Dureza welcomed the MNLF Central Committee’s support for the peace process.
During the MNLF’s General Assembly in Indanan, Sulu on Oct. 7, its members issued a resolution support for the ratification of the BOL and its “eventual implementation.”
Dureza said the BOL will not favor any particular group or organization, emphasizing that it is the embodiment of all signed agreements between the government and the various Moro fronts in Mindanao.
“The BOL’s main feature is its inclusiveness in which everyone is part of the peace and development process,” he said. “No one should be left behind.”
The MNLF’s support in the process of ratifying the BOL was a complete reversal from its previous position under the Aquino administration.
The MNLF under Nur Misuari had signed a Final Peace Agreement with the government on Sept. 2, 1996 which culminated in the formation of the ARMM.
However, Misuari expressed disappointment with the government when the Aquino administration signed a series of agreements with the MILF to replace the ARMM.
Misuari’s disagreement with the Aquino administration led to a breakout of hostilities on Sept. 9, 2013 when a faction of the MNLF attempted to take over Zamboanga City. Government forces defeated the pro-Misuari gunmen within two weeks.
Five months later on March 27, 2014, the government signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the MILF.
However, legislative efforts to pass a new Bangsamoro law to implement the CAB was stymied due to resistance from the MNLF and legislators’ concern over the bill’s constitutionality.
After the Duterte administration took over the government in 2016, the MNLF and the MILF finally agreed to work together. This led to the passage of the BOL which Pres. Duterte signed on July 27.
In a related development, MNLF Secretary General Abdul Kong Sahrin expressed the need for MNLF members to “redefine the organization’s vision in relation to the BOL.” “We need to redefine our vision and (determine) how to pursue it,” Sahrin said.
The top MNLF leader said the MNLF and the MILF share a common vision for the Bangsamoro and should look at each other as partners.
“This partnership is established on the principle of convergence. It is the preferred political option,” Sahrin said.
He said the BOL is “a superior version” of all previous peace agreements signed.
“The BOL is ARMM-plus-plus. There is no reason for you not to support it,” Sahrin told MNLF members.
The sentiments of the two MNLF officials were in line with the OIC’s call on all Moro leaders to support the ongoing peace process in Mindanao.
The General Secretariat of the OIC announced last October that the “success of the plebiscite is crucial to the peace process and all stakeholders should participate fully to ensure of this endeavor.