Muslims in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao have overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new autonomous region in the hopes of ending nearly decades of unrest. The plan to create a self-administered area for the region was backed by 85 per cent of voters, the election commission said, paving the way for a three-year transition towards elections for a legislature that will choose an executive…..
The Philippines held a referendum on 21 January 2019 for their minority Muslim population to have an autonomous region in the hopes of bringing peace to the volatile Mindanao district in the south (a Muslim voter, pictured). Some 2.8 million people were asked if they backed a plan by separatists and the government to create a self-administered area known as Bangsamoro. The ballot was mainly peaceful and turnout was large, according to election authorities, with a result expected within four days when a manual vote count is completed.
The endorsement by some 1.74 million voters comes as no surprise, and the new region to be called Bangsamoro (which translates to “nation of Moros”, the word for a Muslim inhabitant of the Philippines) will have greater powers to generate and invest more money in infrastructure, schools, health care and social welfare for its estimated 5 million inhabitants. Another referendum will ask adjacent provinces if they want to join Bangsamoro in February.
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21 January 2019
Muslims in the southern Philippines are voting in a referendum on the proposed creation of an autonomous region that the government hopes will end nearly half a century of unrest and prevent a new wave of attacks by Islamic State-inspired militants.
The vote caps a tumultuous peace effort by the government in Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main rebel group, to seal a deal signed in 2014 but which had languished in the Philippine congress until it was finally approved last year.
Bloodshed on Mindanao island, including the siege of Marawi city by Isis-linked militants in 2017, and other bombings and attacks in the south, threatened to derail it.
“This is the first time I have voted in an election,” 70-year-old Murad Ebrahim, the chairman of the MILF, said on Monday as he showed off his ink-stained finger. “This solidifies the transformation from armed struggle to democratic politics.”
Under the deal for Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the rebels gave up their goal of an independent state in exchange for broad autonomy. Their 30,000-40,000 fighters are to be demobilised, ending a decades-long separatist rebellion that has killed more than 100,000 people.
Murad was confident of a landslide victory for autonomy in most areas. “The Bangsamoro Organic Law will be ratified and the Bangsamoro government will be established,” he said.
More than 2m ballots have been printed and a result is expected by Friday. The president, Rodrigo Duterte, last week urged voters to approve the plan and show they wanted peace, development and a local leadership that “truly represents and understand the needs of the Muslim people”.
Centuries of conquest, first by Spanish and American colonial forces followed by Filipino Christian settlers, have gradually turned Muslims into a minority group in Mindanao, triggering conflict over land, resources and the sharing of political power.
“There is consistent influx of foreign terrorists in the country who are primarily responsible for the conduct of training to local terrorist fighters, especially in making IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and motivating locals to serve as suicide bombers,” read the document filed by the office of the solicitor general in a rare public acknowledgement by the government of the level of threat still posed by Islamic militants in Mindanao.
If approved, the new region of Bangsamoro will replace an existing poverty-racked autonomous region with a larger, better-funded and more powerful entity. An annual grant, estimated at $1.3bn (£1bn), is to be set aside to bolster development.
Another vote is scheduled on 6 February for additional areas that might want to join the new Muslim region.