The declaration is contained in Proclamation No. 646 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea by authority of President Duterte last Jan. 10.
Miguel De Guzman
Holiday on January 21 in Bangsamoro Organic Law voting areas
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has declared Jan. 21 a special non-working day in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the cities of Isabela and Cotabato to enable residents to vote in the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). 

The declaration is contained in Proclamation No. 646 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea by authority of President Duterte last Jan. 10.

“In order to give the people of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Isabela City and Cotabato City the opportunity to actively and fully participate in plebiscite and exercise their right to vote, it is but fitting and proper to declare 21 January 2019 a special (non-working) day,” the proclamation read. 

Another plebiscite will be held on Feb. 6 in Lanao del Norte, Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pikit and Pigkayawan towns in North Cotabato and other areas that sought inclusion in the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Malacañang has yet to declare Feb. 6 a special non-working day. 

Duterte has urged people of Mindanao to support BOL, a product of the 2014 peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

He said BOL, which would create the BARMM, is needed to curb extremism and to address the historical injustices against the Moros. 

Duterte is scheduled to visit Cotabato City today to persuade residents to support the ratification of the measure.

“You must remember that the President was in favor of BOL. So it’s just logical for someone who is in favor of particular idea to make a pitch for it,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a press briefing. 

Panelo said Duterte will use his “powerful influencing voice” to campaign for the ratification of the landmark measure during the peace assembly today.

Facing opposition

Key security officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año attended the grand assembly organized by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Jolo, Sulu. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal were also present.

Some 13,000 people showed their opposition to BOL, saying they wanted a federal system instead of BARMM.

Lorenzana, Año and Esperon however took the opportunity to campaign for a yes vote, reminding the audience that BOL’s success will be for the good of all Moro people.

Esperon said the years of fighting are a thing of the past once the yes vote for BOL wins as the new law will address the concerns of all Mindanaoans.

At the conclusion of the assembly, a pledge to vote yes was made by the organizers to all those who attended the grand assembly.

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi previously predicted her constituents would likely reject the city’s inclusion in the soon-to-be-formed BARMM because of supposed “abuses” by some groups pushing for BOL. 

She urged the Commission on Elections to check on the reported distribution of ID cards bearing data allegedly obtained from Comelec.

Sayadi said there is mounting public apprehension that the ID cards could be used by scheming possessors to get inside polling precincts on Jan. 21.

Sayadi is leading a campaign against the inclusion of Cotabato City in the BARMM.

Panelo, however, has given assurances that Duterte would respect the decision of people who would vote in the plebiscite. 

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said thousands of Maranaos have committed to support BOL.

With five days to go before the historic plebiscite, OPAPP said Maranao leaders representing nearly six thousand people from various groups and sectors gathered at the Dimaporo Gym in Mindanao State University (MSU) on Wednesday to express their support.

Fr. Ramon Torres, vicar general of the Prelature of St. Mary in Marawi City, came to express his support.

“Peace is our common endeavor. And peace is possible with the ratification of the BOL. It provides us the avenue for the dialogue of life and faith,” Torres said.

Sultan Bangcola Adtha, chairman of the Federation of 16 Royal Sultanate of Lanao, said the sultanates stand as one in support of the landmark measure.

OPAPP chief Carlito Galvez said five provinces are in favor of the BOL ratification.

Galvez said only politicians who claimed they have never been consulted are opposing the BOL.

He said the opposition to the BOL has been addressed.Galvez identified the five provinces supporting the BOL ratification as Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao de Sur and Tawi-Tawi.

Ready to go

The Comelec has reported that a total of 2.1 million ballots have been delivered and are now ready for Monday’s plebiscite.

“We are able to complete the printing of 2.1 million ballots and they have already been delivered,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenes said in an interview with Cignal TV/ One News’ “The Chiefs” that aired late Wednesday.

Jimenez said he will be in Cotabato to personally witness the distribution of the ballots to the teachers and to monitor the conduct of the plebiscite in the ARMM and other core areas.

According to Jimenez, the printing of over 600,000 ballots to be used for the Feb. 6 plebiscite in contiguous areas is still ongoing.

Jimenez said the Comelec opted to hold separate dates for the plebiscite due to huge number of local government units that filed petitions seeking inclusion in the autonomous Bangsamoro region.

“More than 100 local units have filed petitions and we have to resolve every petition as individual case so we ran late in resolving the petition and just decided to lump all inclusion in second separate plebiscite date,” he said.

In the Jan. 21 plebiscite, Jimenez said the voters will be asked whether they would ratify the BOL while those participating in the February electoral exercise will decide if they would like to join the Bangsamoro region.

Jimenez said many are hoping that as intended by the law, the ratification of the BOL will lead to economic development and progress of the Bangsamoro region.

The AFP, for its part, said troops have been deployed to ensure the safe conduct of the plebiscite on Monday.

AFP chief Madrigal flew to the island provinces of Basilan and Sulu Thursday and in Cotabato City in Central Mindanao on Friday to rally behind the ground forces in ensuring the security in these areas.

Madrigal said his marching order to the ground forces is to make sure to have free, peaceful and safe conduct of the election.

Madrigal said so far, there are no areas of concern regarding the holding of the plebiscite on Monday.

As for the threats posed by armed groups in the region, Madrigal said the AFP is monitoring the movements of the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the communist New People’s Army.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said they are focusing on maintaining peace and order in the upcoming plebiscite. 

Albayalde said they are validating and updating the data on 77 armed groups that have 2,000 members for the upcoming elections. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Roel Pareño, John Unson, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edu Punay, Edith Regalado, Jaime Laude, Romina Cabrera

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