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Villagers in MNLF bailiwicks show no fear as they vote in Bangsamoro plebiscite

/ 02:27 PM February 06, 2019

A voter places his ballot inside the box at the Sambulawan Elementary School in Barangay Sambulawan, Midsayap, North Cotabato on February 6. Bong S. Sarmiento

MIDSAYAP, NORTH COTABATO — As voters started to pile up at the Indayla Silongan Elementary School in Barangay Kapinpilan here at mid-morning Wednesday, two MG-520 attack helicopters suddenly hovered in the sky, circling the village a few times, prompting people to look up.

In the 1970s, the sound of helicopters would send residents in the villages of Kapinpilan and Sambulawan scampering for safety. These two villages have been known bailiwicks of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari.

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The two villages were also among the worst affected by the government’s military operations in the 1970s to flush out the MNLF rebellion.

Kapinpilan and Sambulawan were also among the 13 villages here that petitioned to be part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

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But on Wednesday, the day of the plebiscite on the proposed inclusion of the villages in the Bangsamoro, the faces of voters did not show a trace of fear.

Major Arvin Encinas, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the two MG-520 attack helicopters were deployed as part of the aerial security surveillance for the plebiscite in North Cotabato.

He said no untoward incident related to the plebiscite was reported in the province as of 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Sixty-seven villages in seven towns in North Cotabato have petitioned for inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

These towns are Midsayap, Pikit, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Carmen, Kabacan and Tulunan.

The BARMM will replace the 28-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)

“This (BARMM) will put a period to the conflict in Mindanao and will bring peace and development to our communities,” Toto Kunakon, village chair of Kapinpilan, told the Inquirer.

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Kunakon, a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) before becoming a local government official, said he voted “yes” for the inclusion of his village in the Bangsamoro.

“We are tired of war,” said Kunakon. “This is the opportunity for Muslims to establish a government that will chart a better future for the Bangsamoro people,” Kunakon added. He said he voted for the future generation. He has 10 children, seven of whom are still in school.

But Rudy Abdul, an MNLF member loyal to Misuari and who lives at Barangay Sambulawan, voted against the village’s inclusion to the BARMM.

“I want a federal government, which later on shall establish an independent Islamic state,” said Abdul.

He doubted whether the MILF could force members who personally owned guns to surrender them during the normalization process.

“They need it for protection. Among Muslims, there are rido (clan war),” Abdul said.

Wee hours

Midsayap, North Cotabato vote

Voters look for their names at the Indayla Silongan Elementary School in Barangay Kapinpilan, Midsayap, North Cotabato on February 6. Bong S. Sarmiento

Reynaldo Tubelonia, Midsayap Comelec officer, said teachers lined up at the municipal treasurer’s office as early as 3 a.m Wednesday to get the election materials.

The distribution started at 4 a.m. and they immediately went to their polling centers escorted by the military and police, he said.

By noon, some complaints that reached their office included missing names of voters, he said.

Their names might have been taken off the voters’ list because either they had noted voted twice in a row or they had double registrations, Tubelonia said.

In Camp Rajamuda, the third largest MILF camp straddling Pikit in North Cotabato and Pagalungan, Maguindanao, village officials predicted the “yes” votes to win handily.

“Most of us here are voting yes for inclusion,” said Samama Samok, a council member of Barangay Rajamuda in Pikit town.

“If we are included in the BARMM, our children will have a brighter future because they can go to school in an atmosphere of peace,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, several journalists went to Barangay Rajamuda.

Before reaching the village proper from the highway, two checkpoints were seen manned by the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the MILF.

In the village, some men, supposedly BIAF members, openly brandished their Armalite and M-14 rifles. /lzb

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TAGS: Bangsamoro, Local news, Midsayap, North Cotabato, Philippine news updates, Plebiscite
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