MANILA—A total of 62 communities have asked to be included in an expanded autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, whose creation will depend on the results of a plebiscite on Jan. 21 next year, a Commission on Elections official said Wednesday.
A new organic law gives “contiguous” areas the option to join the planned Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, which will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
But the Comelec will still determine whether the 62 applicants are eligible to participate in the plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
“Obviously, not all of them will succeed, but that’s a significant number,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told reporters.
The new law will establish a parliamentary government in the Bangsamoro and provide more resources to a region ravaged and left behind by decades of armed conflict.
Under the BOL, the new autonomous region’s core territory will consist of the present ARMM, 6 towns in Lanao del Norte, and 39 barangays in North Cotabato.
Also included are Isabela City in Basilan, and Cotabato City.
If the 62 applications are approved, they will join residents in the core territory in voting whether to ratify the BOL and be included in the new autonomous region.
Of this number, 56 petitions were filed by local government units while the rest came from registered voters in the areas, Jimenez said.
At least 3 petitions were rejected because the areas were not contiguous to any part of the core territory, he said.
The Comelec will likely decide on the rest of the petitions by the middle of November, he said.
Questions in the ballots will be translated to either Filipino or Arabic, and the process is expected to be completed by next week.
A team of observers from the European Union will conduct an “exploratory mission” in the areas before participating as a monitoring group during the plebiscite, Jimenez said.
“All signs point to a good run of preparations and we expect that the plebiscite will be held on schedule by Jan. 21,” he said.