When President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law on July 26 last year, it signaled new hope for the establishment of self-determination in an autonomous region that will take over the jurisdiction and functions of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The BOL will create an expanded area of self-determination for the Bangsamoro, both in terms of autonomy and physical land area, something that we have awaited for a very long time.
After 30 years, we will be saying our goodbyes to the ARMM and welcoming the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) with much hope for peace, prosperity and progress.
The passage of the BOL was not easy at all. The peace process that resulted in the crafting of the BOL were continued despite the intermittent conflicts over the last decades, among them, the all-out war declared by then president Joseph Estrada.
Here’s what Erap’s all-out war cost, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ): Total material cost – P1.337 billion, broken down into these costs: Damage to agriculture, P124.76 million; damage to infrastructure, P202 million; total ammunition spent by just a single battalion, P20.51 million. That’s not counting the 222 soldiers and the 471 Moro Islamic Liberation Front ( (MILF) fighters killed, the 270 soldiers and the 90 MILF members injured, and the 800,000 non-combatants who became refugees fleeing the all-out war.
This all-out war cost the government, and the people of the Philippines (including the Bangsamoro people), P20 million per day in taxpayer pesos.
The peace process that led to the drafting of the BOL law continued despite all of that, as well as then prresident Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, resulting in the displacement of close to a million people – mostly Moro women and children – at a cost of billions of pesos.
There was the Mamasapano clash that displaced thousands of people in that area and resulted in damage to property. When I was covering MILF peace process beat for another paper from 2010 to 2012, prior to the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro, there were several violent encounters between the MILF and government forces even as the peace talks and the drafting of what we now know as the BOL continued.
What we are bringing to the vote in a few weeks cost the Bangsamoro community blood, sweat and tears. We’ve gotten this far by holding on to our desire for peace in Mindanao, despite all the setbacks and obstacles we have had to overcome.
There are some quarters that have said they will oppose the ratification of the BOL. These parties have the right to vote against this law in the plebiscite that will take place later this month and in February. But if the final vote count shows that we reject the BOL, then we must also face the fact that we may also be wasting all the blood, sweat and tears we have all shed for peace.
Standing polarized over the issue of whether or not we should ratify the BOL will not do anyone any good, especially not the Moros who have already sacrificed more than one can ever ask anyone to sacrifice.
According to a survey by peace-building organization International Alert Philippines, majority of youth in the ARMM will vote in favor of the BOL. The results of the survey, conducted from October 29 to November 19, showed that 60.4% of ARMM youth will vote “yes” for BOL ratification – this covered youths who may or may not vote in the plebiscite. The same survey showed that 8.9% of the youths surveyed said they are not in favor of the BOL, while 30.7% were undecided.
The survey showed that the preference for the BOL is even stronger among ARMM youth who said they will vote. Of those surveyed in this subset, 89.4% said they would vote “yes” to the BOL. Only 2.5% of those surveyed said they are not in favor, while 8.1% were unsure.
The youth vote makes up 5% of the 1.69 million voters in the ARMM – potentially 850,000 votes. If a majority of the youth will vote for the ratification of the BOL, it is obvious that they are voting for what they want to have: Peace, progress, prosperity. Who are we to take this future from the hands of the people who will be living it and raising families in that future they want?
How much loss of lives will it take to create peace for us? How many opportunities must we forego before we are deserving of progress and prosperity? Just when and what will it take to find the perfect time and setting for Bangsamoro autonomy? There are those who say the BOL is not perfect. It is not, but it comes as close as we can get autonomy and self-rule as we can get now. It offers what we need to create peace in a region that has been fraught with deadly and destructive conflict for nearly five decades. It offers us the opportunity to govern ourselves better.
The Bangsamoro have traveled a very rough road to gaining this one opportunity for self-rule. This is not the time to squander that chance we’ve more than earned. Saying yes to the BOL is not just for the good of the Bangsamoro – it is the first step to gaining peace for our whole country. – Rappler.com
Amir Mawallil, youth leader, is a proud Moro Tausug writer. He has worked as a journalist, and now works in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as the director of the region’s public information office. He is the author of the book, A Constant Retelling: Exploring the Bangsamoro Narratives, published in 2018 by Balangiga Press.