MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte made a last pitch for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) from Cotabato City, the "crown jewel" of the Bangsamoro region deemed critical to the plebiscite.
"Let us forget the bitterness of the past and look forward to the future. Which means ladies and gentlemen, mga mahal kong mga Moro brother or sister, magboto kayo ng 'yes,' (to my beloved Moro brother or sister, vote, 'yes')" he said to thunderous applause from his audience.
He spoke on Friday, January 18 at the "Peace Assembly" for BOL ratification, 3 days before the first plebiscite on Monday, January 21. (Check Rappler's full coverage of the plebiscite here)
True to form, Duterte slipped in a light-hearted threat to impress on his audience how much he wanted them to vote in favor of the BOL.
"'Pag hindi, 'di ako magpunta dito kailanman (If you don't, I will never go back here)," he said.
While peace assemblies and rallies were held in other parts of Mindanao, Duterte's presence at the Cotabato City event was telling.
Many are waiting to see if the city will vote to join the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the new political entity the BOL will create if ratified.
The city's influential mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi is openly against the BARMM. Yet Cotabato City would be an important gain for the new region since it's where all the current government offices of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are. (READ: Power brokers in the Bangsamoro region)
If Cotabato City is out of the BARMM, the new government will have to look for another capital.
'Blood, sweat, and tears'
Duterte appealed to the Bangsamoro people to appreciate the gravity and historic importance of the Monday plebiscite.
The Mindanaoan President began his speech with a sober tone, saying, "God must be good to us. The fact that we have reached this point after so many years of negotiation and interruptions, we're here. God is great."
He made sure to acknowledge the long road to the BOL, and the fact that it was paved by other peace agreements with the effort of other Muslim rebel groups.
"This landmark law was not built entirely from scratch, it echoes the aspirations and principles embodied in the past peace agreements with the different Moro fronts. Indeed, it is a product of blood, sweat, and tears of many great men who came before us," he said.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Murad Ebrahim took the same tone in his speech before Duterte's.
Addressing groups who oppose the BOL, he said, "Nanawagan tayo sa kanila na sana bigyan nila ng chance itong BOL. Minsan lang ito dumating sa atin. Siguro hindi dadaan ito muli kung hindi natin kukunin ito ngayon."
(I am calling on them to give BOL a chance. This will only come once. It may not come up again if we don't take this opportunity.)
Answer to 'historical injustices'
Duterte expressed confidence that the BOL would help bring peace and prosperity to restive Mindanao. It aims to do this by creating a new political entity called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which will have more powers and resources than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The law would also address grievances long-held by Muslims in the region, he said.
"Let us use the plebiscite as a peaceful means to finally correct the historical injustice committed against the Bangsamoro people or the Moro people of Mindanao," said Duterte.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman had the same message, saying a "yes" vote for the BOL would mean the end of violence.
Duterte thanked Murad, Hataman, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction leader Yusop Jikiri, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Bangsamoro Transition Commission members for their contribution to the passage of the BOL.
He called on the people of ARMM, Cotabato City, and Isabela City to cast their vote on Monday. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.