‘Backwardness to be overcome in Bangsamoro’

Autonomous Bangsamoro region will be a place of peace again, says Turkey's IHH representative

‘Backwardness to be overcome in Bangsamoro’

The backwardness and injustices in Philippines' Bangsamoro will be overcome after the ratification of the landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), a Turkish non-governmental organization’s official said.

Bangsamoro is a collective term for Filipino Muslims living on an island south of the Philippines.

The Philippines' landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was officially ratified on Friday following a referendum win on granting comprehensive autonomy to Moro Muslims.

Huseyin Oruc -- deputy head of the Istanbul-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and one of the members of the international team monitoring the peace process in the region -- said Bangsamoro people were in a struggle for 50 years and since 1997 they had been negotiating a peace deal with the Philippines' government and signed an agreement in 2014.

Oruc said the agreement was voted in a referendum on Jan. 21 by the people and the result was Yes.

He said the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will now be founded.

"Most probably, leader of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim will be the first prime minister of Bangsamoro.

“The problems, backwardness and injustices which have been continuing for 50 years will be overcome gradually. Peace will be established in the region again," Oruc stressed.

The first international investment has already been announced just two days after the results of the referendum were announced, Oruc noted.

He said a Russian company will plant bananas at a 7,000-hectare of land belonging to Muslims and sell it in Russian markets.

"It is said that nearly 10,000 people will be employed in this work. This is a very large number," Oruc stressed.

He said Turkish investors should follow suit to increase trade in the region.

Oruc expressed hopes the first future prime minister of the autonomous region will be invited to Turkey and that he will make his first visit abroad to Turkey.

Yes vote in Cotabato

He said the results in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the southern Philippines suggest a "stronger" Yes, compare to areas falling out of ARMM.

In the ARMM, the Yes vote made over 85 percent, he said.

Oruc said Cotabato city in the ARMM and Isabela city on the Basilan island were very important, adding that the MILF ran an intensive campaign in Cotabato for the Yes vote.

Two days before the plebiscite, he noted, Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte and Ebrahim made a rally together in Cotabato and invited people to vote Yes in the referendum.

"Yes votes were nearly 50 percent higher than No votes in Cotabato city," Oruc said. Thus, he said, the city was included to the autonomous area.

However, in Isabela, where population of Muslims and Christians are almost same, the No vote won with a narrow margin and Isabela was left outside the autonomous area, Oruc added.

"The referendum was made in a very peaceful environment in an area where there was armed conflict for 50 years," he said.

Oruc said the second part of the referendum will be held on Feb. 6 in six municipalities and 68 villages or towns.

Referendum

Over 1.54 million people voted Yes to approve the BOL, while some 190,000 voted down the law.

Ratification of the BOL means the ARMM in the southern Philippines will be replaced with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The voting started on Monday in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao Del Sur, and the island provinces of Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Sulu as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.

The second phase of the BOL will be held on Feb. 6.

The law, signed by Duterte last year, is set to provide comprehensive autonomy to Muslims, in addition to judicial and economic advances.

Under the law, courts of Islamic law will open in the region, and the Philippines’ central government will transfer its administrative authorities in Mindanao to the Bangsamoro government.

The waters in the Bangsamoro region will be simultaneously managed by the national government and Bangsamoro government.

The autonomous government will be responsible for the management of energy resources.

In addition, the former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and MILF fighters will be able to join official forces.

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