Dimaporos expect ‘landslide victory’ to keep Lanao del Norte towns out of BARMM

Sofia Tomacruz
Lanao del Norte 2nd District Representative Abdullah Dimaporo is banking on the majority Christian population to troop to the polls, convinced they will vote in favor of exclusion

LANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Lanao del Norte 2nd District Representative Abdullah Dimaporo said he expected nothing less than a “landslide victory” to keep key areas in the province out of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

In an interview on Tuesday, February 5, the head of the Dimaporo clan said he believed this was likely considering the majority Christian population in the province.

“It is impossible to defeat the no [vote] because the Christians who are the majority, 65% of all voters are Christian…. Definitely ‘no’ is expected to win landslide because even in the Muslim municipalities, they do not see good governance in ARMM,” Dimaporo said.

The plebiscite on Wednesday, February 6, will ask residents in Lanao del Norte – except Iligan City – and 7 towns in North Cotabato if they are in favor of the inclusion of key areas of their provinces in the Bangsamoro region. The areas include 6 towns in Lanao del Norte and 67 barangays in North Cotabato. (READ: Why the second Bangsamoro plebiscite matters)

It follows the first voting day last January 21, which saw majority of residents in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Cotabato City voting in favor of the law creating the BARMM.

The powerful ruling Dimaporo clan has openly opposed the inclusion of the towns in the Bangsamoro region.They argued that doing so would divide and weaken the province and compromise its peace and security due to the loss of a “buffer zone” served by these 6 towns.

Asked if he was confident the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will secure these territories if included in the BARMM, Dimaporo said he would rather wait and see how the rest of the Bangsamoro region fared. Among the priorities of the Bangsamoro government is the crackdown on firearms and private armies.

“That is something to be seen. Why should we assume they will be able to do that? I would rather they prove that first before taking any of our municipalities. In fact, if they are really very good, we might ask the whole of Lanao del Norte to be joining them,” he said.

Dimaporo also said residents are not fully convinced by the Bangsamoro Organic Law’s promise of peace, as the MILF had attacked the province in 2000, 2003, and 2008 – years before the group inked a peace deal with the Philippine government.

“Our constituents, have been disturbed and massacred, killed, robbed, by elements of the MILF. Just to think that the MILF are coming to the province already intimidates them. They don’t have to see them to be intimidated by them,” he said.

Tensions are running high in Lanao del Norte where several groups – both for and against the inclusion of the provinces – engaged in heated standoffs the day before the plebiscite. There were also 3 explosions that occurred in the province on the eve of the plebiscite.

Unlike in Cotabato City where the presence of MILF members was tolerated, Lanao del Norte residents openly showed opposition upon seeing MILF observers who traveled to the province to guard the vote.

The MILF has campaigned hard for the inclusion of the 6 Lanao del Norte municipalities – Tagoloan, Balo-i, Pantar, Munai, Nunungan, and Tangcal – in the BARMM. These are areas where the group has a strong presence.

Winning the vote, though, won’t be easy. The vote faces the difficult challenge of winning a double majority, This means residents in both the areas seeking inclusion and their mother units need to vote “yes” to their being a part of the BARMM.

If majority of residents in either the concerned municipalities or the province vote no, the area will not be part of the Bangsamoro region. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.