Maguindanao del Norte

MILF’s party gears up for 2025 polls with grand assembly in Sinsuat territory

Ferdinandh Cabrera

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MILF’s party gears up for 2025 polls with grand assembly in Sinsuat territory

MILF leader and BARMM Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim speaks to supporters gathered during a political general assembly at MSU, Dalican, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao Del Norte.

Ferdinandh Cabrera/Rappler

The Bangsamoro region has a history of violent elections, and many fear next year's polls will be more contentious due to a looming clash between the MILF's party and an alliance of established political dynasties

MAGUINDANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Thousands gathered in Datu Odin Sinsuat town as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) political party, United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), staged a grand general assembly as it gears up for the Bangsamoro region’s first parliamentary elections in 2025.

The assembly, which carried the slogan Matu tano (We will fight), was held at the Mindanao State University (MSU) compound in Datu Odin Sinsuat town, the political bailiwick of the family of Vice Governor Ainee Sinsuat, on Saturday, June 22. The vice governor’s husband, Lester, is the mayor of Datu Odin Sinsuat town.

Sinsuat had assumed the post as acting governor of Maguindanao del Norte but reluctantly stepped aside after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Abdulraof Macacua, an MILF leader and former Bangsamoro senior minister, as officer in charge of the new province in 2023.

MILF UBJP assembly Datu Odin Sinsuat
SUPPORT. Supporters gathered to show their backing for the MILF’s party, UBJP, which is set to compete in the first parliamentary elections in May 2025. New members took their oaths during a general assembly at MSU, Dalican, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao Del Norte. Ferdinandh Cabrera/Rappler

Sinsuat is closely associated with Maguindanao del Sur Governor Mariam Mangudadatu, one of the provincial governors in the Muslim-majority region who formed a political alliance working against the UBJP’s bid to win seats in next year’s elections.

Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, who is also UBJP’s chairman, presided over the acceptance of new members from different provinces of the region.

Ebrahim called for clear and honest elections. “This assembly is a testament and declaration that MILF, through UBJP, is serious about officially participating in the first parliamentary elections. We are united in calling for clean and fair elections in 2025,” he said.

The MSU gymnasium in Maguindanao del Norte was packed, and many more listened to speakers or watched on large screens outdoors.

Abdullah Adam, an UBJP leader in Maguindanao del Norte, said the stakes were high in the upcoming elections. “Our homeland and Islam are at stake in 2025. It is the interest of the Bangsamoro people, and we are the forces of change,” he said.

The predominantly Muslim region has a history of violent elections, and many fear that next year’s polls would become more contentious since the MILF’s party is headed towards a political clash with the BARMM Grand Coalition (BGC), an alliance composed of well-established political dynasties from different provinces in the region.

The BGC includes the Al-Ittihad-UKB Party of Mangudadatu and her husband Suharto, former governor of Sultan Kudarat; the SIAP Party of Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr.; the Bangsamoro People’s Party (BPP) of Basilan Representative Mujiv Hataman; and the Salam Party of Sulu Governor Sakur Tan.

Other political parties in the region, including those associated with the MNLF and indigenous or settler groups, have yet to formally declare their alliances for 2025.

During the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s (PCIJ) Investigative Journalism Conference in Quezon City, in May, Elections Chairman George Erwin Garcia cited security concerns in the BARMM, saying they have started preparations to tighten election security in the region as part of “drastic” measures.

In Davao City last March, several BARMM political parties called for the immediate dismantling of private armed groups and the full implementation of the decommissioning process for former MILF rebels to ensure peaceful elections next year, during a gathering organized through Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the United Kingdom government.

Dr. Francisco Lara Jr. of the Council for Climate and Conflict Action Asia (CCAA) noted that many clans still possess weapons and have not been affected by normalization campaigns.

“They still hold weapons. And you still have the clans that private armies have not yet been affected by any normalization campaign in the Bangsamoro. So in that particular field, everyone is vulnerable,” Lara told an interview with ABS-CBN. 

Dr. Julio Tehankee of Participate Governance and Ateneo School of Government said BARMM’s political clans and former armed social movements, should channel their energies into the electoral arena by strengthening their political parties, stressing that political competition need not result in violence. – Rappler.com

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