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PALACE RESPONSE: NONSENSE

Duterte push for BOL to widen conflict in Mindanao – Sison

LUCENA CITY — Exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison on Sunday said President Rodrigo Duterte was setting the stage for a bigger conflict in Mindanao by vigorously campaigning for ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Malacañang countered that Sison was talking about a local issue that he knew nothing about.

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The BOL is the charter of the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Residents of the ARMM, the cities of Cotabato and Isabela decide at the polls on Monday whether to ratify the BOL, while residents of Lanao del Norte (except Iligan City) and six towns in Cotabato province vote on Feb. 6 to decide whether to join the BARMM.

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Final step in peace deal

Ratification of the BOL is the final step in the peace agreement signed in 2014 by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim guerrilla group in Mindanao.

The President led the campaign for ratification last week, urging people to vote for the BOL to end a decadeslong conflict in Mindanao and bring development and progress to the war-torn island.

“He (the President) is setting the stage for a bigger armed conflict in the Bangsamoro and adjoining areas,” Sison said in a statement from Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Sison said the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had the support of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

He said the OIC was “angry that previous agreements and arrangements it has made with the Manila government under OIC auspices are being swept away so arbitrarily by Duterte.”

On Friday, about 3,000 members of the MNLF faction led by Nur Misuari gathered at the Cotabato City Hall to express their opposition to the BOL.

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The MNLF faction led by Yusof Jikiri, however, has expressed support for the BOL.

Sison said that in Maguindanao, “the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other forces do not agree with the MILF’s collaboration with Duterte on the BOL.”

Main enemy

“The main enemy of the Bangsamoro is still the oppressive Manila government that violates their right to self-determination. What Duterte is doing is to use the BOL to divide and rule the Bangsamoro by making the various Bangsamoro forces fight each other,” Sison said.

Several sultans and government officials, from the level mayor to governor, in Sulu, Lanao and Maguindanao provinces also reject the BOL and the President has offered them no satisfactory terms, Sison said.

“He is railroading the BOL through the plebiscite, under the duress and unfair condition of martial law,” Sison added.

Malacañang responded, saying Sison was talking “nonsense.”

“Sison has issued another statement on a local issue he knows nothing about,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

“His latest rants are being ignored as a product of an idle mind in exile,” he said.

“We pray that he be given a sound mind and a healthy body so that he will be spared from an unwelcome illness leading to what appears to be a journey to the unknown,” Panelo added.

Foreign observers

The government has allowed dozens of foreign observers to monitor the plebiscite for the ratification of the BOL on Monday, according to James Jimenez, spokesperson for the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Jimenez said the foreign observers were from Japan, Canada, Australia, the United States and the European Union.

The foreign observers have been advised to coordinate their movements with security forces, Jimenez said.

Security is tight in the plebiscite areas as the vote neared, with the military and the police urging residents to watch out for saboteurs.

In Cotabato City, Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who opposes ratification of the BOL, claimed on Sunday that the presence of MILF members in the city was causing fear among the residents.

But Maj. Arvin Encinas, spokesperson for the 6th Infantry Battalion, said the MILF members were unarmed.

“As long as they’re not bringing firearms, they can enter,” Encinas said.

Senior Supt. Michael Libanan, Cotabato City acting police director, gave assurance of ample protection for voters.

“We are here to protect you,” Libanan said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, JEOFFREY MAITEM, SHEILA MAE DELA CRUZ AND EDWIN O. FERNANDEZ

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Organic Law, BOL plebiscite, Joma Sison, Jose Maria Sison, Rodrigo Duterte
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