"A foreign power can easily exploit a nation's weakness for its own purpose."
The recent plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law is turning out be fraught with acrimony, contrary to its intended purpose of peace and stability in the Muslim areas of Mindanao.
While the early canvassing of votes showed the Yes votes having the majority, there is an outcry of alleged cheating and intimidation of voters to cast the affirmative. Cotabato City Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani Siyadi is set to file a poll protest claiming the outcome of the plebiscite did not reflect the true will of the people.
The case of the Cotabato City controversy is just one of possible conflicts of the results of the BOL plebiscite. In areas where there is preponderance of Christian population, we can expect more disputes over the outcome. How will Christians react to losing their control over areas that they used to dominate if the “yes” votes prevail even if the votes counted were valid?
Even people in Metro Manila who are far away from the Muslim region are not pleased with the “Bangsamoro” appellation accorded to the BOL. They think that the word Bangsa gives the autonomous region some semblance of a separate state or a state within a state. Critics of the framers of the BOL claim the government panel did not give too much thought on the ramifications of the Bangsamoro name. The officials of the Philippine government panel included Tes Deles, UP professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer and now Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen all key appointees of former President Benigno Aquino III.
Passed by the present Congress, President Rodrigo Duterte had no choice to but submit the BOL to a plesbiscite for approval by the people.
But not everything that is approved by the people necessarily translates to smooth implementation. Take the case of the British plan to leave the European Union. Approved by the British people in a referendum, Brexit met with stiff opposition in Parliament that made Prime Minister Theresa May undergo a confidence vote. While PM May survived a no-confidence vote, her power and influence in Parliament and the MPs were clearly diminished.
The final outcome of the plebiscite is still under a cloud since Sulu Governor Abdulsakur “Toto” Tan has a pending petition before the Supreme Court to declare the BOL as unconstitutional, and its validity to have an encompassing purview over a great part of Mindanao as null and void.
The Muslims in the area who voted “yes” will surely not accept a negative outcome after waging years of armed conflict and then painstaking peace talks with the government panel.
Mindanao then will continue to be a land of promise—unfulfilled even as the largest island in the country could be a rich source of food from agriculture, lumber and minerals. Most of the big mining firms operations are in Mindanao but could not exploit its full potential because of the Muslim separatist problem.
The Commission on Elections claimed it had been a generally peaceful and orderly plebiscite. The problem is the acceptance of by both the yes and no sides of the plebiscite’s final tabulation outcome. Canvassing of votes is not expected to be completed for another two or three days. Until then, tension will remain high in the areas under the purview of the proposed BOL.
The senatorial candidates and local officials should make known their stand on the BOL so voters can determine whether they are for a unified or deeply divided country.
A divided nation makes it vulnerable; a foreign power can easily exploit this weakness for its own purpose. At stake in the equation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law is our claim to Sabah against Malaysia and our territorial dispute with China on the West Philippine Sea. Will the Muslims in a Bangsamoro autonomous region yield our claim to Sabah to their fellow Muslims in Malaysia? That is a vexing question the rest of the country wants to know the answers to.