Moro youth might rebel if Lanao del Norte votes ‘no’ – MILF lawyer

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – A victory for the "no" vote in the Bangsamoro plebiscite in Lanao del Norte on February 6 will result in the disenfranchisement of Moro youth in the province, a lawyer of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) said. 

With the Bangsamoro Organic Law already ratified by the current Muslim region last January 21, a plebiscite will be conducted in parts of two other provinces on whether they want to be part of the expanded region that the BOL will create. 

Six municipalities in Lanao del Norte – Tagoloan, Balo-i, Pantar, Munai, Tangacal and Nunungan – will vote on whether they want to be included in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), while the rest of the province (except Iligan City) will vote whether they will allow the 6 towns to be carved out of the mother local government unit. 

North Cotabato will have a similar plebiscite, also on February 6, on the inclusion of 67 barangays or villages in the BARMM.

Should the votes of the concerned localities and their mother provinces differ, then the localities will not become part of the BARMM. 

“If there is a failure for the 6 towns to join the BARMM, we are expecting that there will be a group that will surface – a group of young people, and that's what we are afraid of,” Salahoden Benhamza, legal officer of the MILF Northwestern Mindanao front, said in a press briefing on Friday, February 1. 

“Not all members of the MILF are educated, or have a mature mind,” Benhamza added.

Three of the provinces that comprise the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – which BARMM will replace – are the poorest in the country: Lanao del Sur with 66.3 poverty incidence, Sulu with 49.6 poverty incidence, and Maguindanao with 48.8 poverty incidence.

“There are many members of the MILF that are young. They may not be able to stop themselves because of the frustration and because of expectations from the peace process, like livelihood and scholarship programs so they can go to school, if they can't join the BARMM,” Benhamza said.

A tale of anger retold

The narrative of Moro youth joining rebel groups or violent extremists has been repeatedly retold.

In 2008, Abdullah Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo of the MILF's Northwestern Mindanao Command, attacked the towns of Kausawagan, Bacolod, and Kolambugan after the Supreme Court voided the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) during the administration of president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Civilians took the brunt of the anger that Macapaar unleashed in the coastal towns of Lanao del Norte.

Benhamza said disenfranchized Moros created and started their own groups, which held grudges against the government.

“If you look at the war in Marawi, that was a result of the delay of the peace process,” Benhamza said. “That is why you have BIFF, Maute, Abu Sayyaf – they are a result of the failed peace process.” 

Moro youth lacking access to education and better employment and economic activities are a prime source for recruitment by rebel groups.

The MILF itself is a breakaway group of the Moro National Liberation Front after the MNLF, under Nur Misuari, signed the peace agreement in 1996 in this city.

The Abu Sayyaf Group started out as a revolutionary movement but quickly transitioned into criminality and eventually into terrorism.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is a breakaway group of MILF under the command of the late Ameril Umbra Kato.

The Maute group was led by a son of former MNLF fighter Cayamoro Maute. The Maute group is made up of second-generation fighters who wanted to prove themselves in the eye of the former rebels.

Regardless of the outcome of the plebiscite in Lanao del Norte, the BARMM was already ratified in its core territories. The new Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will take hold of the new BARMM until a set of new officials are elected in 2022. – Rappler.com