MANILA - An Islamic Studies professor cited the influence of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the change of heart of the people of Cotabato City on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies Professor Julkipli Wadi said the significant number of Cotabato residents voting for the BOL's ratification is a sign that they believe the MILF has changed.
"I think the influence of both MILF forces including traditional politicians in the area that had already affiliated with MILF is very crucial," Wadi told ANC's Beyond Politics.
"Only shows, I think, a certain degree of a kind of Cotabateños know the MILF has changed quite substantially. There’s a feeling of some degree of comfortability with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. We just hope that those in the grassroots, especially those who could be controlled by both forces would rather also join hands in the reconciliation."
Wadi added that civil society groups that have shown strong support to the peace process also influenced the pulse of voters.
"I think this has influenced very strongly the pulse of the mostly Christians in Cotabato that’s why even if they consistently opposed inclusion in the earlier plebiscites, I think they changed heart these days although not that much because it’s still close," he said.
As of 8:35 p.m. Tuesday, 59 percent or 36,682 residents in Cotabato City voted for the measure, while 41 percent or 24,994 voters voted nay. This brings the total votes to 61,676, with a voter turnout of 54.22 percent in the city.
The law, which resulted from a peace pact between the government and the MILF, has been a hotly contested topic in this southern city as the Cotabato mayor herself, Cynthia Guiani, has been actively campaigning against the landmark legislation.
The local chief executive believes the city is better off not joining the Bangsamoro region that, if ratified, would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Cotabato City already rejected joining the ARMM on two previous plebiscites.
The MILF has insisted on the inclusion of Cotabato in the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, stressing that the city, which had seen armed encounters before the peace deal ended the conflict, has always been a part of the Bangsamoro struggle.
The MILF denied Tuesday that it resorted to intimidation and vote buying to influence the plebiscite.
Meanwhile, as more people in Sulu appear to vote against the ratification of the BOL, Wadi said their opposition will largely be symbolic.
"The rule in the BOL is the ARMM will vote as a geographical unit.
Even if the 'no' votes win, it has to join. Sulu has to join the new autonomous region. But given Sulu's sentiments, I think it will take some time before healing could happen," he said.