Bangsamoro plebiscite campaigners on both sides face off in Lanao Norte

CAMP BILAL, Munai, Lanao del Norte (MindaNews) – Abdullah Macapaar – alias Kumander Bravo, commander of the North Western Mindanao Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) based in Camp Billal here – has intensified his efforts at campaigning for a Yes vote in the upcoming plebiscite so that some parts of Lanao del Norte will become part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Lanao del Norte, along with a few areas currently not part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, will have its plebiscite on February 6. Those in the ARMM and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela will cast their votes on January 21.

At least 1,500 MILF members went into a house-to-house campaign in the villages of the coastal towns of Lanao del Norte last Monday, from Linamon all the way to Kapatagan.

The provincial government, on the other hand, has likewise launched a massive campaign to vote for a No in the proposal to include six municipalities in Lanao del Norte in the BARMM.

Last January 6, Macapaar said at Camp Bilal: “The [Bangsamoro organic law] is not only for the MILF but for every citizen of Lanao del Norte in order to attain a lasting peace, justice and equality.”

With Macapaar during the Camp Bilal visit were Fr. Teresito Soganub (of the Marawi siege fame); Maranao leader Mohammad Musa Sanguila and Abelardo Moya, both of Pakigdait, Inc.; and Bishop Stephen Villaester of the Angelican Church.

“No one wants conflict because it is not only the Muslims who will evacuate but also the Christians. We will not follow to the wishes of a few politicians. Instead, we should listen to people who can help build a better future for our children and the next generations to come, for peace, unity, justice and equality for everyone in the province,” Macapaar said.

He said that if the Yes vote wins, he will push to double the salaries of teachers and other government employees, and to give special attention to orphans by putting up an orphanage center.

Macapaar recalled his and his family’s ordeal during the war in 1971, noting that many of his relatives were massacred, including women. He said they were a victim of land grabbing, forcing them to fight back.

“We evacuated to the mountains but the military pursued us, unleashing bombs from planes and firing Howitzers at us,” he said.

Reflecting on the Marawi Siege, Macapaar said the MILF opted not get involved so there will be doubts against the organization. “I am hoping that under the Bangsamoro organic law, Marawi will be rehabilitated,” he said.

Meanwhile, the provincial government under the leadership of Gov. Imelda Quibranza Dimaporo and her husband Abdullah and son Mohammad Khalid, who are both representatives to Congress, are conducting their own massive campaign for a No vote.

They, however, said they are supporting the ratification of the organic law as long as the six municipalities – Munai, Tangkal, Nunungan, Tagoloan, Pantar and Balo-I – will not be taken away from the province as it may mean a great loss to Lanao del Norte’s internal revenue allotment.

The local military commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas Sedano Jr. of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said they want the plebiscite to be peaceful and the voters not to be intimidated.

He also reminded the MILF not to violate the agreement by not wearing MILF uniforms and bringing firearms during the campaign.

Sedano said they organized Task Force Plebisito with the help of the Commission on Elections and the Provincial Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee, which is composed of the Armed Forces, Philippine National Police, Department of Interior and Local Government and other line agencies.

Lawyer Joseph Hamilton Cuevas , provincial COMELEC supervisor, said the COMELEC is currently preparing for the scheduling of training among election officers. He pointed out, too, that the COMELEC disapproved the petition to include five barangays in Iligan City and other barangays in Lanao del Norte in the BARMM.

ARMM COMELEC regional director Rey Sumalipao said in a text message Thursday that preparations for the plebiscite on January 21 are “almost done.”

He said 1,987,495 registered voters will cast their votes in 3,624 precincts. (Richel V. Umel / MindaNews)