Catholic leaders appeal for calm ahead of Bangsamoro plebiscite

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia (R), Papal Nuncio to the Philppines, listens intently as Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, briefs the 45th General Assembly of the BIshops-Ulama Conference on the Organgic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim MIndanao, from the Catholic perspective, on 27 November 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/ 09 Jan) – Two Catholic Church leaders in Mindanao renowned for their peace works have appealed for sobriety amid the anxiety gripping some parts of the island that will participate in the plebiscite to ratify the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM).

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, OMI, retired archbishop of Cotabato and Mindanao’s first and only cardinal, appealed for calm in Cotabato City and surrounding areas amid the fear gripping residents due to the circulation of “fake news” on social media and text messages about armed men planning to attack the city.

The security scare mounted following the New Year’s Eve blast outside the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City that killed two persons and wounded over 30 others.

“Let not fear reign over us. Let us be calm,” Quevedo said on Tuesday over a Catholic-owned radio network in Region 12.

The prelate urged those who had received provoking or unfounded information over text messages or on social media to immediately report these to authorities for verification.

Pope Francis accepted in November the retirement of Quevedo, who is now serving as Archbishop Emeritus and Apostolic Administrator Sede Vacante of the Archdiocese of Cotabato.

Quevedo had vowed to remain active in serving God’s people and continue his peace advocacy in Mindanao.

Cotabato City, which is part of Region 12, is the seat of the Archdiocese of Cotabato and the 28-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The ARMM is deemed abolished once the OLBARMM is ratified.

OLBARMM is among the terms of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in 2014 after nearly five decades of conflict in several parts of Mindanao that claimed over 120,000 lives, including civilians.

The plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro law is set for January 21 in all areas in the ARMM and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.

The Commission on Elections also set February 6 for voters in Lanao del Norte, six towns in North Cotabato and other areas that petitioned for inclusion in the future BARMM.

Oblate priest Eliseo Mercado Jr., former government chief peace negotiator in talks with the MILF, also appealed for sobriety in Cotabato City, which twice rejected inclusion in the ARMM, ahead of the upcoming plebiscite to create a new Bangsamoro region.

“Whether we are for or against inclusion, we must not forget that we are all united and stakeholders to peace and development of Mindanao in particular and the Philippines as a whole,” said Mercado, now senior policy adviser of the Cotabato City-based think tank Institute for Autonomy and Governance.

Mercado especially called for the need to respect the results of the plebiscite.

Meanwhile, Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi assured her constituents that the security sector is doing its best to protect the city from saboteurs.

“Let not fear overwhelm us because the law is on our side,” she said in a video post.

Guiani-Sayadi also appealed to the public to stop forwarding unverified information in the social media or text messages that sow fear in the hearts of the people. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)