MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 20 January) — As Christians and Muslims ate together at the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santo Niño parish compound here on Sunday, retired Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Mindanao’s first and only cardinal, fearlessly predicted that the “yes” votes will rule the plebiscite to ratify on Monday Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also called the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), on Monday.
“My fearless forecast is that the yes votes will win overwhelmingly, even in Cotabato City,” Quevedo told MindaNews inside the parish convent.
He was the main celebrant of the holy mass for the 80th pastoral fiesta of Señor Santo Niño.
Quevedo slammed information spreading around that religious organizations in Cotabato City, including his congregation, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, support the non-inclusion of Cotabato City into the proposed Bangsamoro region.
On Monday, voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela will troop to polling precincts to ratify the law.
RA 11054 is anchored on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 after four decades of conflict that claimed over 120,000 lives, including civilians.
Quevedo, the head of the Archdiocese of Cotabato for 20 years, tirelessly worked to support the Bangsamoro peace process.
“I want it to succeed because for me, the BOL significantly and fundamentally addresses the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro since the time of the Spaniards,” he said.
The Vatican accepted Quevedo’s resignation last year but he currently serves as the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator until Jolo Bishop Angelito Lampon will be installed on January 30 as the new Archbishop of Cotabato.
The 79-year-old prelate vowed to serve the Catholic Church and continue his peace advocacy work even after retirement.
Quevedo urged the voters to participate in the plebiscite set on Monday for all areas under the ARMM and the cities of Isabela in Basilan and Cotabato City, both of which rejected inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite.
He also called on the public to be vigilant against those who want to sabotage the plebiscite.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) also set February 6 for voters in Lanao del Norte (except Iligan City), and seven towns in North Cotabato.
Amid intelligence reports that saboteurs are out to disrupt the plebiscite on Monday, the military on Sunday also appealed to the public to be extra vigilant and immediately report to authorities suspicious individuals or packages for proper action.
Major Arvin Encinas, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the intelligence community has intercepted supposed plans of the Islamic State-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to sabotage the plebiscite.
While security measures have been already put in place for Monday’s plebiscite, Encinas called on the public to help security forces ensure a safe and orderly elections.
“Please be vigilant. If you notice suspicious individuals or items, report immediately to the authorities. Security is everybody’s concern and not just by the armed forces,” he said.
The hotline numbers under the 6th ID jurisdiction that the public can report to are: 0995-633-1518 (603rdInfantry Brigade), 0936-966-6203 (Joint task Force Kutawato), 0927-477-8111 (LGU Ronda-Cotabato City), 0917-634-6925 (5th Special Forces Battalion), 0917-703-2311 (6th ID Public Affairs Office) and 0997-290-6837 (Philippine national Police), according to Encinas.
He said that security threat is high in Cotabato City but authorities are not lowering their guards in other areas against possible saboteurs during the plebiscite. (Bong S, Sarmiento/MindaNews)