3 NorthCot towns under tight security for Bangsamoro poll

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato (MindaNews/05 February) — Authorities have intensified security measures in the towns of Midsayap, Pikit and Aleosan, North Cotabato to quell possible disruptions from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) during Wednesday’s plebiscite for the inclusion of 67 villages to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), a Commission on Election (Comelec) official said on Tuesday evening.

Lawyer Jay Gerada, Comelec provincial supervisor, said the military and the police beefed up security in the three towns, especially in remote communities where the BIFF elements are known to move around.

“The security measures are all in place. We are hoping for a peaceful and orderly plebiscite,” he said in a phone interview.

Close to 2,200 soldiers and police officers were deployed Tuesday morning to seven towns in North Cotabato to secure the 67 villages – 39 that voted for inclusion in the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2001 – and the 28 that petitioned for inclusion in the BARMM, data from the provincial police office showed.

These towns are Midsayap, Pikit, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Carmen, Kabacan and Tulunan.

The BARMM will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Bangsamoro Law was ratified by ARMM in the January 21 plebiscite. The ARMM provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi resoundingly voted in favor of the law. Sulu, whose Governor Abdusakur Tan II questioned the legality of the Bangsamoro Law before the Supreme Court, voted against it.

Cotabato City, which twice rejected inclusion to the ARMM, also voted for inclusion in the BARMM.

The Bangsamoro Law is the key component of the final peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 after four decades of conflict that killed over 120,000 persons, including civilians.

The 67 villages in seven towns in North Cotabato “wanted to be part of the BARMM because residents there, mostly Moros, no longer want to return to the vicious cycle of war,” Von Al Haq,  spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing, said.

Al Haq said most of the villages in North Cotabato that sought to be part of the BARMM “wanted to reap the fruits of the peace process”.

“These villages have experienced the cruelties of war,” he said.

According to him, BIAF fighters and their families or the mass support base of the MILF “populate the villages that want inclusion to the BARMM.”

Al Haq expressed confidence the 67 villages would “all become part of BARMM,” also citing the support shown by the provincial government of North Cotabato.

Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza earlier rallied voters to participate in the plebiscite.

“North Cotabato supports BOL,” she said.

But even if the 67 villages in North Cotabato voted for inclusion, they would need the consent of their mother local government units to become part of the BARMM. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)