In past decades of the 20th Century, a combination of poor living conditions in Mindanao, broken governmental promises and outright violence has led elements of the indigenous Muslim population there – the “Bangsamoro” – to launch an armed insurgency for independence. This was resolved in peace talks that led to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Dissidents dissatisfied with this arrangement carried on rebellions for true independence, or outright terrorism. While the latter has been controlled, the former were won over by the recent passing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law that would form a new greater-autonomy region in Mindanao via plebiscite.
As CNN Philippines reports, that plebiscite to form a new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region to replace the ARMM framework has begun in earnest this Monday, January 21. Here, registered voters estimated to exceed 2 million are expected to come out to vote on whether or not their location cities, municipalities or provinces will be integrated into the BARMM. This is the first of two plebiscite dates, covering the existing territories of the ARMM. Polling precincts opened as early as 7 in the morning, with late openers here and there. As with regular elections, voting for the plebiscite ends at 3 PM.
In addition to the ARMM provinces, the plebiscite is also being held in the non ARMM-incorporated cities of Cotabato (part of Region XII SOCSKSARGEN) and Isabela, Basilan (part of Region IX Zamboanga). Both these localities voted “No” to inclusion with the original ARMM and, with desires to perhaps change the outcome this time around, both cities have been monitored closely by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to prevent incidents that might forcibly swing the result of the plebiscite in them to one or the other. The plebiscite asks voters if they would accept the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and if they want their community to become part of the proposed BARMM.
A second plebiscite date is scheduled for next month on February 6, and it will involve nine municipalities of Lanao Del Norte province, 39 barangays in North Cotabato, and 28 other areas adjoining the current ARMM. The entirety of these two provinces will also answer on the plebiscite whether they would allow the aforementioned communities to be broken off from their respective mother provinces and added to the BARMM territory. As the plebiscite votes are to be manually counted, the results will be tabulated over the following days, with a possible announcement at week’s end.
The creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region is hoped to be the long-sought answer to resolve the long-standing issues of the Mindanao peace process, putting an end to a long period of armed conflict in the resource-rich southern Philippine island.
Image courtesy of ABS-CBN News