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Military, MILF prepare to secure Bangsamoro vote vs violence

MANILA, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said the plebiscite on the creation of a new Bangsamoro region on January 21, 2019, will not be marred by the usual violence seen in regular elections in Mindanao.

“While we see that there’s a possibility of some violence during the plebiscite, for me, the plebiscite is not like regular elections,” MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said.

The military and the MILF discussed security preparations for the plebiscite during Murad’s historic Camp Aguinaldo visit on November 21, two months before the crucial plebiscite. 

“Napag-usapan namin (We talked about it). We foresee [possible concerns in] some areas, but these are very manageable,” Galvez said in a joint press conference with Murad.  

Galvez, a staunch supporter of the peace process with the MILF, is retiring from his post in December. But he is seeking to serve as consultant of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and continue the advocacy. 

Murad said the MILF is also confident of its continued cooperation with other military generals it has been working with on the ground.  

“We have established a very strong cooperation under the joint ceasefire committee. We are trying our best that even during the time of the plebiscite, there will be no violence that will happen,” said Murad.

Eyes on BIFF Commander Toraifie

Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Arnel dela Vega said there are also members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Central Mindanao who have reached out to indicate possible support for the new region.

Sammy Al Mansour, chief of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), said BIFF members who are “not hardliners” are observing the outcome of the plebiscite and expressed openness to supporting the peace process. 

Al Mansour said it’s the BIFF faction led by Esmail Sheikh Abdulmalik – who goes by the nickname "Commander Toraifie – that they need to watch. (READ: Duterte names obscure terrorist to justify extended martial law)

“Kung titingnan, ito ang pinaka-strict. Iyan ang babantayan (If you look at it, it’s the most radical faction. That's what has to be watched closely),” said Al Mansour.  

The BIFF is a breakaway group of MILF that continues to seek independence rather than autonomy. It has leaders like Toraifie who have pledged allegiance to the international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS) and coddle foreign fighters.

Congress passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in fulfillment of government’s commitment in the peace talks with MILF, the dominant Muslim rebel group.  

The January 21 plebiscite will decide which areas agree to join the new region that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

The campaign period for the plebiscite will run from December 7 to January 19. – Rappler.com