AFP assures peaceful, orderly plebiscite

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 17 Jan) ­– The Armed Forces of the Philippines is set to launch security operations to ensure the peaceful and orderly holding of a historic plebiscite that could end the decades old Moro insurgency in Mindanao.

AFP Chief of Staff Benjamin Madrigall. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. said there are enough soldiers and policemen deployed in 5 provinces, 4 cities, 116 towns and 2,490 barangays to ensure voters can safely cast their votes on Monday.

Madrigal said special emphasis for the security operation will be in Maguindanao and Cotabato City where terrorist threats are “high”.

“We assure that voters will be safe this coming plebiscite on Monday,” he stressed.

Lawyer Ernie Palanan, elections supervisor of the Commission on Elections, said a company of 100 policewomen have just completed a two-day workshop on how to handle the voting and ballots during the plebiscite.

He said the policewomen would be on standby ready to replace school teachers who will not report for work on Monday because of security threats.

“We will ensure that the polling precincts will remain open despite the security threats,” Palanan said.

In Lanao del Sur, Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said soldiers will set up security cordons around schools where balloting will take place.

Brawner said teams of policemen were tasked to bring the ballots from the municipal offices to the schools.

Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, head of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and chair of the Bangsamoro People’s Consultative Assembly, said it is important for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that there will be overwhelming “yes” votes on Monday’s plebiscite.

“The turnout of the plebiscite will be a political document of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF,” he said.

Lingga said the MILF cannot afford a rejection of an agreement that it has worked for since 1997 when it signed a ceasefire with the government.

“The MILF will certainly not go back to war but it will not also accept the old framework of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). So everything will be in limbo,” he said.

History professor Tirmizy Abdullah said Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Mohagher Iqbal and Ghazali Jaafar also needed an overwhelming vote to assert their leadership in the MILF organization.

He said the three highranking MILF leaders are responsible for bringing the revolutionary organization to forge a peace agreement with the government.

“It will not look good for the three if the voters reject the agreement. It will erode the stature of their leadership in the organization,” Abdullah said.

He said there are still rebel commanders in the MILF who are loyal to its late founding leader, Hashim Salamat.

The professor said a rejection could disintegrate the MILF into different factions.

Abdullah, who teaches at the Mindanao State University, said Marawi residents are pinning their hopes that Murad will bring them back to their homes.

“Murad made a lot of promises that he will bring the residents once the BARMM [Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] is set up and the residents are hoping that he makes good of his promise,” he said.

Abdullah said it will be a different story if Murad breaks his promise.

“The call of Islamic militancy is still being heard in Lanao del Sur. It might be the reason for the residents to embrace it,” Abdullah warned.

Around 1,863,230 voters in southern Philippines will cast their ballots in a plebiscite whether they would like their provinces, towns and cities to join the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Monday.

The plebiscite will ratify Republic Act No. 11054, the enabling law of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in March 2014.

The peace agreement is hoped to end the decades-old Moro insurgency in Mindanao that have left 100,000 to 150,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians dead since 1970, according to government data.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said the total economic loss sustained by Mindanao due to the conflict is pegged at about P640 billion ($13.9 million).

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) said the conflict also generated two million internal refugees; 535 mosques and 200 schools destroyed; and 35 cities and towns bombed or damaged by the fighting. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)