Tension grips Cotabato City ahead of Bangsamoro plebiscite

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2019 09:30 PM

The Cotabato City Hall. Photo from Cotabato City's Facebook Page

MANILA - Tensions are rising in Cotabato City ahead of the upcoming plebiscite for a new Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao, Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said Tuesday.

This as some local politicians are wary of the upcoming plebiscite, concerned that it would hamper their political plans in the May midterm elections, Galvez explained.

"It's becoming too tense because some of the politicians correlate that the outcome of the BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law) [plebiscite] will have a direct correlation on their future interest to run in the midterm elections," he told ANC's "Beyond Politics."

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Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who is against the inclusion of the city to a new Bangsamoro territory, added that locals who share her views have been experiencing harassment in connection with the upcoming plebiscite.

"We have recorded several crimes committed against Cotabato City," she said.

"This has worried the people of Cotabato City and no amount of recantation can probably ease the worries of the people," she added.

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Consultations with different sectors in Cotabato City reveal that locals reject the Bangsamoro Organic Law, Guiani-Sayadi said.

The enabling law of the peace agreement between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front seeks to create an autonomous Bangsamoro entity, seen to help end strife in long restive Mindanao. 

"Majority of those people that we consulted are really against the inclusion of Cotabato City in the Bangsamoro region," she said.

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to visit the city this Friday to call on residents to vote for the ratification of the Bangsamoro law. 

Duterte is banking on the law's ratification to heal "historical injustices" suffered by the Moros.

Galvez said the President has directed all Cabinet secretaries to support the measure as the government makes its final push for the creation of a new Bangsamoro territory.

"What we are doing right now is really to make the people understand that we have a plebiscite coming. We are trying to talk to other political figures that they have to separate the upcoming plebiscite from the midterm elections," Galvez said.

The former military chief also emphasized the importance of including Cotabato City in the new Bangsamoro territory, calling it a "very strategic point" in the restive south.

"Based on our history, Cotabato City is really under Muslim rule and Cotabato City is basically a very strategic point," he said.

Guiani-Sayadi meanwhile expressed hopes that her constituents would be allowed to vote freely "sans any harassment" come the Jan. 21 plebiscite.

"We are supporting the move of the military, the PNP and the government towards a peaceful and free plebiscite on Jan. 21," she said.

"We really want to hear the voice of the people," she added.

Over 10,000 soldiers and police officers will be deployed to Cotabato City on Jan. 21 to secure the historic plebiscite, Galvez said.