By Francis Wakefield
PATIKUL, Sulu – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Thursday sent his top security and peace secretaries here to pitch for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) days before the holding of a plebiscite scheduled on January 21.
Led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the team was composed of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año Jr., Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Nabil Tan, and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Benjamin Madrigal.
Lorenzana urged the more than 10,000 residents gathered at the gymnasium of the Mindanao State University not to miss the opportunity to ratify the BOL.
“This is our chance to make our present situation better…We shall pass on a more prosperous Mindanao to the next generation,” the defense chief said.
“What is happening right now is history in the making,” he added.
Lorenzana said the BOL is a testament that the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao are “lovers of peace.”
“This is our dream. Even though I am not a Muslim, I grew up in a Muslim-dominated area in Maguindanao, I am with you in dreaming of a prosperous Mindanao,” he said.
Lorenzana grew up in the town of Parang in Maguindanao and studied in Notre Dame College.
More powerful political entity
The Bangsamoro people’s aspiration for social justice, equality, peace, and prosperity is shared by all peace-loving Filipino people,” he said.
Lorenzana also challenged the future leaders of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to practice good governance to make peace sustainable.
The BOL aims to establish a more powerful political structure for the people in Mindanao.
President Duterte signed the BOL on July 27, 2018. The law is part of his campaign promise to heed the Moro people’s clamor for genuine autonomy, saying the nation needs to address the “historical injustices committed against the Moro people” in Mindanao.
Duterte Administration’s legacy
Yusop Jikiri, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), said the BOL “responds to the long-standing wishes and expectation of our people that will greatly impact the lives of the present and future generations of the Bangsamoro people.”
Jikiri expressed his gratitude to the Cabinet secretaries for gracing the grand assembly for the BOL.
“The only objective of these officials (Cabinet secretaries) in coming to Sulu is to help us achieve overwhelming victory for the BOL because this is also the marching order of the President,” he said.
“Our President is seriously concerned about the ratification of the new autonomy law for the Bangsamoro because it is the legacy of his administration to put an end to the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people,” Jikiri said.
“The BOL is the only available solution to the aspirations of our people,” he pointed out as he encouraged the people to vote Yes to the BOL.
Nograles announced the entire Cabinet is 100% in support of the ratification of the BOL.
“We believe the BOL is the key for peace in Mindanao,” he said, narrating the work during the previous 16th Congress on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the first version of the law.
Nograles urged the people not to miss this opportunity and ratify the BOL.
“On Monday, we should unite and write in our ballot our Yes votes to the BOL,” he told the crowd.
Esperon, for his part, narrated his experiences when he was a young officer assigned in Sulu in the 1970s.
He disclosed that among those he engaged in armed encounter was no other than Jikiri himself.
“Even among rival warriors, we can be friends because we have only one objective and that objective is to bring peace in our area,” Esperon said.
“We came here today because we are 100% in support of the ratification of the BOL,” he said, adding that with BOL,” it is now time to bring out the luster of Sulu.”
Template for Federalism
Año explained that the BOL is a template for the federal setup of government.
“Our present government under the Duterte administration is advocating for a federal system. The good thing here is that the Bangsamoro government is the step for our federal form of government,” he said.
Año said with the ratification of the BOL, “we can now solve the armed conflict not only the secessionist groups but more importantly the terrorist groups.”
The law, he said, will empower the Moro and non-Moro communities residing in the area.
“We will now have a Bangsamoro government with more power, more autonomy, and more resources,” he said.
“This is the time to tell the whole country and rest of the world that we will vote Yes to the BOL this January 21,” Año said, generating applause from crowd.
“Mindanao will be the land of real change and the land of fulfillment,” he added.
A law of peace and justice
Galvez, for his part, assured the residents of Jolo of a peaceful and orderly plebiscite on Monday.
“Don’t be scared. Let’s be united. Let’s vote. We should protect the plebiscite,” he said.
“This is a rare opportunity given to us to decide and finally chart our own destiny under this new law for peace in Mindanao,” he added.
Galvez explained that the BOL is no ordinary law.
“This is a law for peace. This law is for justice. This law will bring more development to the Bangsamoro,” he said.