MILF chair votes in historic Bangsamoro plebiscite

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 21 2019 10:51 AM | Updated as of Jan 21 2019 08:32 PM

MILF Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrhajim exercised his right to suffrage for the first time on Monday's historic Bangsamoro plebiscite. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao -- For the first time since joining the underground movement in the late 60's, Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim participated in the government's democratic process as he voted yes for the Bangsamoro Organic Law in a historic plebiscite Monday.

Murad voted at a polling precinct in Barangay Simuay Crossing, just outside their headquarters, where around 3,900 residents were registered. A lot of residents in the area welcomed the MILF chair in the precinct with loud cheers..

“This is the first time I exercised my right to suffrage and this signifies that from the revolutionary, we are now transforming to the democratic process,” said Murad in a press conference after he voted “yes” for Bangsamoro.

Murad was among the over 2 million people in Cotabato City, Isabela City in Basilan, and ARMM who voted on the first day of the plebiscite on Monday. Another round of voting on February 6 was set for those voting in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato areas.

The Bangsamoro law, if ratified by the people, will create a new region with greater autonomy, replacing the 29-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and supposedly promising development in the area.

If the yes vote wins for the Bangsamoro law, Murad said the MILF has identified education, health, and social services, as well as infrastructure as the priorities under the new autonomous government.

The MILF chairman also said the group's combatants are ready to decommission a third of all their firearms immediately after the Bangsamoro law is ratified. 

Asked what will happen if the result of the Bangsamoro plebiscite will not meet their expectations, Murad said: “As long as it is conducted in a fair manner, there is no manipulation or intimidation, there is no cheating, we are determined to accept whatever is the result." 

He said the MILF, in case the no vote wins, will continue to struggle for the implementation of the peace pact with the government. 

In his speech during a pro-Bangsamoro rally in Cotabato City last Saturday, the MILF leader urged citizens to vote, saying the armed struggle is over and it is time to take part in a new, “democratic struggle."

“Itong plebisito, hindi na natin kailangan ng Armalite para manalo... Ang kailangan lang natin ay lapis. Pupunta tayo sa presinto, isusulat lang natin ang ‘yes’ at Inshallah, mananalo tayo!” Murad said to a cheering crowd.

(We would not need any Armalite to win in this plebiscite. We only need a pen, then we go to the precinct and vote yes, and Inshallah, we will win!)

The Commission on Elections recorded at least 150,000 former MILF fighters voting on Monday's historic plebiscite.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in May 2018, is the culmination of years peace negotiations between the government and the MILF, seeking to heal the wounds from decades of conflict in the restive south.