President Rodrigo Duterte traveled to the southern Philippines on Friday to push for ratification of a law designed to give former Muslim rebels in the region control over an autonomous homeland ahead of a plebiscite on the issue scheduled for Monday.
Duterte arrived amid tight security in Cotabato, just days after a bomb attack at a shopping mall left two people dead. Authorities said the attack was aimed at causing widespread fear leading up to the popular vote on ratifying the law.
“After so many years of negotiation and interruptions,” Duterte said. “This is why I proudly join my Moro brothers and sister as we convene this peaceful assembly in support for the ratification of Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).”
“Your approval of this law will not only serve as an expression of your desire to end more than a century of armed struggle in the region,” he said. “It will also serve as testament to your determination to bring genuine peace and development in Muslim Mindanao through an autonomous government that truly represents and understand the needs of the people.”
The BOL would give people in the south control over many local government functions including taxation and education and would allow Muslim Filipinos to incorporate Islamic law into their justice system.
Authorities hope the BOL will end four decades of conflict that has left an estimated 120,000 dead in Mindanao, the country’s mineral-rich, yet poverty stricken, southern third.
As part of a deal struck with the government, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed to disband its fighting force and surrender at least 30,000 firearms.
Full story: BenarNews
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
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