By Ahmet Furkan Mercan
COTABATO CITY, Philippines
The president of the Philippines on Friday called for support of the ratification of a law expected to bring greater autonomy to the predominantly Muslim southern regions of the archipelago.
Speaking at the "Peace Assembly" for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) ratification in Cotabato City, Rodrigo Duterte urged a “yes” vote at the referendum on Jan. 21.
"Dear brothers and sisters of Moro allow us to forget the suffering of the past and look forward to the future. Use the “yes” vote,” he said.
Voting is set to begin on Jan. 21 in two cities, with a second round to be held on Feb. 6 in other areas in the neighboring region.
Stating that the BOL is a “product of blood, sweat, and tears of many great men who came before” them, Duterte acknowledged the long road which led to the referendum.
The president also said that the BOL contained the values and desires of different groups of Moro.
Emphasizing that the law will bring peace and prosperity to the region, Duterte said that the law will ease the decades-long suffering of the people of the region and give the opportunity to address the problems.
The chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),
Ebrahim also urged a "yes" vote in the upcoming referendum, stating that they may never get this opportunity again.
If the BOL passes, it will afford greater legislative and economic autonomy to the Muslim-majority region, allowing for the establishment of shariah courts and joint administration of internal waters with the central government.
The law had previously been referred to the country’s top court on the grounds that some of its articles go against the current constitution.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Moro rebel group in the Philippines, forged the Bangsamoro Law with government representatives as one of the requirements of the peace agreement it signed in 2014 with then-President Benigno Aquino III.