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Military braces for Bangsamoro plebiscite

By FROILAN GALLARDO
Special Correspondent . 

THE military 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.

Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. said there are enough soldiers and police officers deployed in five provinces, three cities, 116 towns and 2,490 barangays to ensure voters can safely cast their votes on Monday.

A battalion of police officers, including elite Special Action Force, has arrive in Cotabato City to serve as augmentation force to secure the Monday plebiscite that will decide for the inclusion of the city under the new Bangsamoro region. Election and security officials are expecting a tense environment amid threats of violence from opposing parties. (photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera of Mindanews)

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

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

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

Palanan said the policewomen would be on standby ready to replace schoolteachers who would not report for work on Monday because of security threats.

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

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

Brawner said teams of policemen were task 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 MILF that the voters will vote overwhelmingly for “yes” on Monday’s plebiscite.

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

Lingga said the MILF cannot afford a rejection of an agreement that it have 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. So everything will be in limbo,” he said.

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

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

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

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

He 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 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 said.

Around 1,863,230 voters in Mindanao 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 (Barmm) on Monday.

The plebiscite is aimed at ratifying Republic Act 11054, the enabling law of the Comprehensve Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2014.

The peace agreement is hope 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.

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