BULIOK, Pikit, North Cotabato – Two-month old Myrhana Mangaguil was in deep slumber on the lap of her aunt, Hamira Abubacar who was resting on a shaded bench near the gate of the Buliok Elementary School shortly before 9 am Wednesday. Hamira was waiting for Myrhana’s mother to finish voting in the plebiscite on the proposed inclusion of Buliok in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm).
Myrhana slept peacefully, unmindful of the noise from voters looking for their names on the lists posted on the wall nearby and those walking towards their voting precincts to decide on her future.
“Insha Allah si Myrhana hindi na magbakwit,” said the 33-year-old Hamira, who, like thousands of residents in war-torn villages like hers, can no longer recall how many times she has had to evacuate in their lifetime. “Di ko na matandaan. Ilang beses na.”
Unable to graduate from high school because the armed conflict disrupted classes and yes, their livelihood, Hamira worked as domestic helper in Kuwait and later Oman, for 10 years.
She came home three months ago and has decided to stay home because “Insha Allah, may Bangsamoro na.”
“Wala nang gyera. Kapayapaan na,” said Hamira.
Hamira’s narrative of wars and displacements in her Barangay Buliok, and hope in the coming of the Bangsamoro government, is shared by many in the voting precincts on plebiscite day — in Rahaj Muda, Bagoinged, Barungis, Kabasalan and Bulol.
At the Kabasalan Elementary School, housewife Normina Subpingan, 34, voted “yes” to assure the future of her eight children.
Normina believes joining the Barmm will mean her children will live in peace and will be able to finish school. Like Hamira, she cannot say how many times she has had to flee from war. Even her children have had to flee “mga limang beses.”
Normina said the cycle of evacuations hampered her studies, making her complete only her Elementary years. Her eldest is now in high school and she dreams all her children will be able to finish school, uninterrupted by wars.
In Barangay Bagoinged’s elementary school, farmer Kirino Eslail, 75, father of eight and grandfather to 10, voted “yes” to each of the 23 questions Pikit’s voters had to answer on the biggest ballot among all areas where the plebiscite on the Barmm was conducted on January 21 and Feb. 6.
“Kalilintad” (Peace), the farmer replied when asked what his vote signified. “Madakl” (Several times) was his response when asked how many times he has had to flee from war in the last 50 years.
Twenty-three out of 42 barangays in Pikit – including these former battlegrounds of the Moro liberation fronts (Moro National Liberation Front and later the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and government forces — were proposed for inclusion in the Barmm.
Twenty-two of the 23 will be joining the Barmm, based on results from the Municipal Plebiscite Board of Canvassers. Barangay Balatican voted “no” but Commissioner Omar Sema of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission manifested before the Board on Thursday that they would file a petition for a declaration of failure of plebiscite in Balatican where he said “no free election” was conducted due to threats and intimidation.
Of the 22 that will now join the Barmm, 11 had actually voted for inclusion in what was supposed to be an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) in the plebiscite on Aug. 14, 2001 – among them Hamira’s Barangay Buliok, Kirino’s Bagoinged and Normina’s Kabasalan.
The Commission on Elections last month approved the petition of 12 other barangays in Pikit that petitioned for inclusion in the Barmm, among them Barungis, Bulol and Rajah Muda.
For Hamida Sailon, 60, owner of a sari-sari store and a voter of Bagoinged, voting “yes” means “wala nang gyera” (war is over)..
Her wish for her grandchildren is that their lives will no longer be disrupted by wars. “Hindi na sana magbakwit at sana makapamuhay nang maayos.” Like Hamira, Normina and Kirino, she cannot remember how many times she has had to flee from war, the evacuations ranging from a month to a year.
Bagoinged Barangay captain Faisal Haron, 67, voted “yes” because the many wars in his village and neighboring areas have destroyed so many lives.
He is optimistic that under the Bangsamoro, “doon namin makamit ang kapayapaan, umangat kabuhayan ng mga tao.” He hopes the Bangsamoro leadership will ensure the livelihood of residents and the improvement of their road as well.
At the Barungis Elementary School in Barangay Barungis, Dimacaling Alpong, 58, carried his grandddaugher Bai Linang, his ninth grandchild who is “almost one year old,” while waiting for his wife to finish voting. Bai Linang’s mother, Dimacaling said, is a teacher in the school and was busy with her election duties.
Dimacaling hopes Bai Linang will never experience war in her lifetime. “Kami na lang makaranas, huwag na sila.”
Gulam Guimbalanan, 52, barangay captain of Kabasalan, said being part of the Barmm will bring an end to wars and displacements.
“Wala nang gyera, wala nang bakwit,” he said.
Hundreds of mujahideens – many of them first time voters – trooped to the polls in the villages often mentioned as the places of origins of residents who seek refuge in evacuation centers in the cycle of wars here. Among them was their commander — Acmad Abas — more popularly known as Kumander Jack, head of the Eastern Mindanao Front based in the MILF’s Camp Rajah Muda, who was accorded special treatment (as MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim was on Jan. 21 in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao) at his voting precinct in the Rajah Muda Elementary School.
Teacher Mohanie Abas, a poll clerk in one of the clustered precincts near where the MILF commander voted, said more voters turned up at the plebiscite than in the barangay elections in May last year.
She also noted that voters “na may grudge” (referring to those involved in ‘rido’ or clan disputes), “nagkita sila harap-harapan, walang tension.”
“Yung may grudge nagkaisa sila dahil sa BOL,” she said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas of Mindanews)