Thousands join BOL campaign rally in Jolo

JOLO, Sulu, January 6, 2019 – Tens of thousands of people converged here on Saturday to show their support for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in the runup to the plebiscite which will be held in little more than two weeks.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said he was surprised by turnout of the people gathered inside the grounds at the Notre Dame College.

“I did not expect this crowd today,” he said. “I am very pleased to see everybody here.” 

He said the BOL is not just the work of the MILF but encompasses all the signed peace agreements, particularly with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“The BOL is not a victory of the MILF but it is the victory of the entire Bangsamoro people. This is the fruit of our sacrifices. It is the result of our collective efforts,” he said.

“Inshallah, we will win in Sulu,” Murad said.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. attested to Murad’s statement, saying as a military man who saw more than 40 armed engagements in Sulu as Battalion Commander at the height of the “all-out war” campaign in 2000, he experienced the pain of seeing the “tears of a dying man.”

“I don’t want to hear such cries anymore because it is very deafening and painful,” he said.

Galvez said the only way to cut the so-called “generational chain of violence” is to effectively run the future Bangsamoro government.

“The BOL is an antidote against terrorism and violent extremism,” he said.

Addressing the crowd, Galvez said the Tausug should “own” the BOL because a number of Tausugs were involved in crafting it.

Four members of the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which crafted the BOL, are from Sulu: Jose Lorena, former Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin, Raissa Jajurie, and Gafur Kanain.

Galvez said Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Nabil Tan, who has been working in the peace process since the Ramos administration, also hails from Sulu.

“The BOL reflects the aspiration of the Tausugs for genuine autonomy over their ancestral lands,” he said.

At the same time, Galvez said the BOL addresses not just the clamor of the Moro people but also interest of the Indigenous Peoples and Christian settlers.

“In other words, this is an all-inclusive law. This is a product of almost 50 years of struggle and peace negotiations,” he added.

“I am a Christian and I support the BOL,” Galvez announced, generating applause from the people.

The peace adviser encouraged the people to actively take part in the plebiscite. 

“This is a very rare and historic opportunity for us to chart our own destiny. And we should take this opportunity because we have a President — President Rodrigo Duterte — who understands our aspirations for peace in Mindanao,” he said.

Early this week, the President again made a pitch for the ratification of the BOL, saying he is confident the landmark law “would pass the people’s will.”

“Let’s accompany the President for us to achieve genuine peace and real change here in Sulu and the entire Mindanao,” Galvez said.

“Let’s vote what’s in our hearts. If you’re going to ask me, my heart says Yes to BOL,” he added.

The plebiscite is scheduled on January 21 for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the cities of Isabela and Cotabato.

Another plebiscite is scheduled on February 6 for the expanded areas, including six towns in Lanao del Norte and villages in North Cotabato.

The ratification of the BOL will repeal the current organic act that establishes the ARMM.

The law is part of the implementation process of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the MILF.

Adzfar Usman, who represented MNLF chair Yusoph Jikiri in the rally, said the entire membership of MNLF is “all-out in supporting for the ratification of the BOL.”

Both Murad and Galvez said the BOL serves as a template for federal governance the President is pushing.

“This will become a perfect template for federalism,” Galvez said.

“If there will be federal governance, there is a big chance the BARMM will be strengthened,” Murad said.

Mohagher Iqbal, the chair of the MILF Implementing Peace Panel, said the Bangsamoro people “invested blood and sweat to this struggle until we achieved this law. That’s why we need to ratify the BOL.”

For his part, Usec Tan enumerates the historical evolution of the different peace agreements spanning several administrations.

He said President Duterte in his inaugural speech emphasized that he will honor all signed peace agreements in step with the constitutional and legal reforms.

“The BOL, which is a political commitment of the government, has a parallel track which is the normalization process,” Usec Tan explained.

He said the normalization track seeks to transform the MILF from an armed revolutionary group into a peaceful and progressive organization.

“The vital component of the normalization, which is to decommission the MILF forces and their weapons, should be pursued to its logical conclusion until the phase four,” he said.

Usec Tan said the phase four also coincides with the regular elections of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2022.

“This will also entail the redeployment of the military in the area and the dismantling of private armed groups in region,” he said.

“The BOL will spell peace, security, and development,” Tan said.

Among those who attended the BOL rally are former Sulu Governor Benjamin Loong, former Congresswoman Maryam Arbison, former and incumbent mayors of Sulu, Notre Dame of Jolo College President Fr. Romeo Saniel and members of the BTC.

The rally, which was organized by the stakeholders themselves, is the first among the series of pro-BOL rallies slated in the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-tawi.