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Abelardo Moya (extreme right), director of the Pakigdait Inc., appeals to residents of Lanao del Norte yesterday to allow six of their towns to be included in the Bangsamoro territory during the second round of the plebiscite scheduled on Feb. 6. (photo by Joey Nacalaban)

MILF, MNLF forge pact on Lanao Norte plebiscite

By CONG B. CORRALES
Associate Editor
with NITZ ARANCON
Correspondent . 

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front have forged a covenant for a free and credible Feb. 6 plebiscite in Lanao del Norte during a meeting here yesterday.

The meeting was an unprecedented first for both Bangsamoro revolutionary organizations.

The covenant was the collective output of both fronts after a two-day conference facilitated by non-government organization Pakigdait Inc.. The Center for Humanitarian Dialogue and Asia Foundation cooperated in providing a platform for the historic dialogue between the two Bangsamoro revolutionary organizations.

The conference ended yesterday with a press conference.

“Sana there will be no war anymore,” said Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, chairman of Pakigdait.

In reading the covenant, lawyer Salahoden Benhamza, counsel of MILF’s northwestern Mindanao Front, shared both groups’ apprehensions and requests to the national government in the coming Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite in Lanao del Norte.

Benhamza said they are aware of the methods of those who are against the “yes” vote this coming Feb. 6.

“Amid the significance of the BOL [Bangsamoro Organic Law] to the lives of Moros in Lanao del Norte, dynastic forces are out to thwart the realization of these peace gains by frustrating the inclusion of the six towns of Baloi, Pantar, Munai, Tangkal, Tagoloan, and Nunungan into the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” the covenant reads in part.

He claimed that those who are opposing the inclusion of the six towns have waged “massive misinformation and disinformation” campaign across Lanao del Norte’s 22 towns.

Benhamza also claimed that there were even politicians who threatened to remove 4Ps beneficiaries from the program should they vote “yes” for the inclusion of the six towns.

“We ask the government to ensure that these sinister designs are neutralized before these could wreak havoc on the Bangsamoro transition by messing up the BOL plebiscite,” he said.

In the covenant, both groups said they prefer soldiers to oversee the plebiscite if only to ensure its orderly conduct.

“If we let these dynastic forces to their whims and caprices, we allow them to turn back the clock to the time of bitterness, animosity, and violence,” the covenant reads in part.

For two days, both fronts shared the pains they went through in waging the struggle for self-determination of the Bangsamoro people. Through a workshop, both groups came up with four possible scenarios and came up with a unified response to these scenarios.

In an interview at the sidelines of the conference, Abelardo Moya, Pakigdait director, said his organization has been based in Lanao del Norte which gives them a tactical edge in conducting “listening sessions” with both revolutionary groups.

“We have been using the interfaith lens in mediating warring groups in the province. Plebiscites can divide the people. So, we talked to major conflict actors in the province and conducted listening sessions in the six towns that want inclusion in the Barmm,” Moya said.

The possible scenarios presented are:

• the six towns would be included in Barmm;

• some of the six towns would be included in Barmm;

• none of the six towns would be included in Barmm; and

• failure of elections.

He said both revolutionary groups could take solace that they could still have access to development funds of the Barmm should the six towns be excluded in the new Bangsamoro territory.

Under Article 14, Section 2 of the BOL, “the national government shall provide a special development fund to the Bangsamoro Government for the rebuilding, rehabilitation, and development of its conflict-affected communities.”

For his part, Abedin Sanguila of the boundary command of MNLF in Lanao del Norte assured that they entered into the covenant with the MILF with peace of the province in mind.

“We are here to dialogue for peace and not war. We support the BOL. Mudawat kami mapildi man o mudaog,” Sanguila said.

He quoted MNLF chairman Nur Misuari as instructing them that the new “war” should be waged in the negotiation table.

“Sa mesa na ang bagong bakbakan. Kaya nakikipag usap na tayo sa military for peace para sa kaayohan sa Lanao del Norte,” said Sanguila.

Lawyer Salahoden Benhamza of the MILF in northwestern Mindanao said his group (MILF) would accept whatever the outcome of the Feb. 6 plebiscite will be but he warned that it could result in the radicalization of the Moro youth.

Musa Sanguila, secretary of Pakigdait said there is no reason who officials of Lanao del Norte to work for a “no” vote even as he pointed out that the towns of Tagoloan II, Baloi, Pantar, Monai, Tangcal and Nonongan would not be separated from Lanao del Norte even with a “yes” vote.

Sanguila and Fr. Suganob, Pakigdait chairman, said they were optimistic that a “yes” vote would bring peace and development in Lanao del Norte.

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