01/26/2019, 08.00
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Mindanao says 'yes' to autonomous Muslim Bangsamoro

More than two million voters cast their ballot in favour of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will also include Cotabato City. In Isabela City, residents opposed inclusion. Muslims were divided over the vote. Catholic leaders support the autonomy project.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A new chapter has opened in the history of the Philippines. With 1,540,017 votes in favour and 198,750 against, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was ratified giving birth to an autonomous, Muslim majority region, on the southern island of Mindanao.

The National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (NPBOC) announced the results of the referendum yesterday, ratifying the historic law creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The new territorial entity will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), defined by many as a "failed experiment" due to its dependence on the Manila government and accusations of corruption or mismanagement.

Cotabato City will also be part of the BARMM, whilst residents of Isabela City have rejected inclusion.

The ARMM consists of five provinces: Basilan (excluding Isabela City), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao (excluding Cotabato City), Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Compared to ARMM, the BARMM will have more powers and will receive an annual unconditional budget allocation from the national government that will make it more independent and reduce the need for regional officials to request funding from Manila.

It will also have a parliament, to be composed of representatives from the current ARMM provinces, additional territories that voted to join BARMM, and representatives for women, Christians, and indigenous peoples.

Some 2.8 million people were registered for the referendum with 2.17 million voting on 21 January.

A second vote will take place in Lanao del Norte and in North Cotabato, where over 600,000 people are eligible to vote.

Mindanao Muslims have been divided over the vote. The Bangsamoro Organic Law is based on a 2014 peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Maguindanao-based group.

The law has generated discontent among other Islamic ethnic groups, like the Tausūg, who prefer federalism, and the Maranao.

Fears, especially in matters of religious freedom, have fuelled the initial distrust of Christians towards the law. Many of them came to the island from the north of the country, taking possession of land that is now the subject of disputes with Muslims.

Four days after the vote, the Catholic leaders of Mindanao, however, expressed support for the autonomy project, describing it as "the last concrete chance for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao”.

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