MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte, Mindanao’s first president, will call on Mindanaoans to vote “yes” to the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) on Friday, January 18.
Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Duterte will make this call during a “peace assembly” for the BOL in Cotabato City on Friday, or 3 days before the first BOL plebiscite on January 21.
“The President’s voice is a powerful influencing voice,” Panelo sais in a news briefing, after he was asked if Duterte would be able to convince people from Cotabato City to vote in favor of BOL.
Cotabato City suffered from a bomb explosion last New Year’s Eve, which happened despite Mindanao being under martial law. While the Autonous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is governed from Cotabato City, the city itself is not part of ARMM.
This is why Cotabato City is seen as a crucial city for the plebiscite. If the city votes against joining the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the BARMM's regional government will have to move government offices to a new capital.
But on January 21, it will have a chance to vote for or against joining the BARMM, a new region that will have more autonomy, powers, and resources than ARMM.
Panelo also said that Duterte, while supportive of the BOL, will not force a “yes” vote.
“If despite the support and the campaign, the overwhelming majority or even a slight majority says they don’t want it, the President cannot do anything but to comply with the sovereign voice of the people in Mindanao,” said Panelo.
Duterte has pushed for the ratification of the BOL since he was a presidential candidate in 2016. He had often said back then that “nothing short of the BOL” or federalism would address the grievances of Mindanaoans.
“From the point of view of the President, the BOL will solve the age-old problem of the Muslim rebellion,” said Panelo.
Assessing Duterte's public support for BOL
Duterte’s participation in the January 18 peace rally is his first scheduled public appearance in Mindanao in the 3 weeks leading to the first BOL plebiscite on Monday, January 21.
His last public engagement in the region was on December 29, 2018, when he distributed certificates of land ownership in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato. Some 50 barangays in that region are participating in the February 6 BOL plebiscite.
After December 29, Duterte was mostly in Luzon. He had activities in Tagaytay City, Pili in Camarines Sur, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Masbate, and Bacolod in the Visayas.
However, a Malacañang source said Duterte had held multiple private meetings with various Muslim groups starting in October 2018.
The source said among these groups were those from Sulu and Maguindanao, two provinces participating in the January 21 plebiscite.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.