MILF members flock to register as voters

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SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao (MindaNews/07 March) – While fighting continues to rage between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on one side of Maguindanao, a special and symbolic registration of voters. among them combatants, was taking place at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) just outside the MILF compound of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)’s Camp Darapanan.

A special registration of voters was conducted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) here Saturday in what MILF officials said was its formal entry into the Philippine electoral arena.

“It’s very important, more than significant,” said Von Al Haq, spokesperson of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).

“We are preparing to run the Bangsamoro government, we need this, a very significant event in our life,” he said.

Members of the MILF’s Central Committee led by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and MILF Vice Chair Ghazali Jaafar were supposed to have registered also but Jaafar told reporters that the Committee decided to register later.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal had shown reporters in Davao City during a media roundtable on March 5 the back portion of his laminated Comelec registration in 2013.

“Tool for hope”

The Comelec-accredited Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) officials lauded the move to register combatants and their families.

Registration is “a tool for hope,” PPCRV national chair Henrietta De Villa said, adding it “serves as a very significant message for the peace process. We need this to push the peace process despite the sad event at Mamasapano,” she added.

The Mamasapano incident which claimed the lives of 67 persons — 44 police commandos, 18 Moro rebels and five civilians – has put the peace process, particularly deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), in limbo.

“This registration is the first step for the integration of MILF combatants into the country’s electoral system, we need this and it shows the government is welcoming the MILF, we are all Filipinos,” De Villa added.

Hundreds of unarmed MILF combatants and supporters, both women and men, formed a long line as they waited to register. Many claimed they have not registered with the Comelec for so long while others say “it was our first time.” The list up started at 9 a.m. and continued in the afternoon.

“Isang boto.. malaking epekto”

Adbillah Dalaig from Barangay Nekitan, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao province arrived at the BLMI building barefoot. The 55-year old farmer decided to stop working for a day, crossed a river and rode a “habal-habal” to avail of the special Comelec registration.

“Isang araw lang naman mag-rehistro, ang boto namin sa eleksyon ang may malaking epekto sa buhay namin,” said Dalaig.

Benjie Darat, an MILF combatant, said he believes the electoral process will bring peace that they have been longing for.

Darat is a resident of Barangay Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town which is the base of the MILF’s Central Committee.

“Ilang taon tayong nakipag- gyera sa gobyerno ng Pilipinas, subukan din nating makilahok sa proseso. Malay natin sa panahong ito mararanasan ng Bangsamoro ang tunay na hinahangad nilang kapayapaan,” (We’ve fought against the Philippine government for so long, let’s try to participate in the process. Who knows this time the Bangsmaoro will experience the genuine peace that we long for), Darat said.

Twenty-two year old Noraima Pendatun was nervous while waiting for her turn to get her fingerprints scanned. The former OFW from Barangay Simuay, Sultan Kudarat said it was her first time to register.

“Panahon na rin siguro na sumali kami sa proseso. Hindi lang naman ito para sariling kapakanan kundi para sa lahat ng Moro” (I think it’s time that we take part in the process. This is not just for our sake but for the sake of all the Moro), said Pendatun.

Asked what kind of leader/President she would like to see, Pendatun said, “yung hindi corrupt” (one who is not corrupt).

1986

Al Haq was the highest MILF official who showed up to register although Jaafar showed up early in the morning.

“The last time I registered as a voter was for the 1986 snap elections,” he recalled.

The MILF has formed the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) as its political party that will actively participate in the plebiscite for the BBL and the 2016 elections for what the new Bangsamoro government.

Comelec Commissioner Al Parreno was also present along with other Comelec officials in the region.

Parreno urged other qualified voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to avail of the continuing registration of voters in 204 satellite registration areas in the region.

“I am hopeful it will help as we build peace in Mindanao,” Parreno said. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera and Toto Lozano/MindaNews)

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