World, Asia - Pacific

Yes vote takes lead in Philippine Muslim autonomy poll

Historic plebiscite could grant 'comprehensive autonomy' to Moro Muslims living in the southern Philippines

Yes vote takes lead in Philippine Muslim autonomy poll Moro Islamic Liberation Foundation (MILF) Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ibrahim casts his vote during the referendum in Cotabato, Philippines on January 21, 2019. The referendum, is held in the Philippines to ratify Bangsamoro Organic Law, which will create Bangsamoro Autonomous Region that will allow major autonomy to Moro Muslims. ( Ahmet Furkan Mercan - Anadolu Agency )

By Ahmet Furkan Mercan

COTABATO CITY, Philippines

The 'Yes' vote appeared to take the lead on Tuesday in a historic plebiscite on a law that would grant "comprehensive autonomy" to Moro Muslims living in the southern Philippines, according to unofficial results.

The voting took place on Monday in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao Del Sur, and the island provinces of Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Sulu as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.

While the first five provinces are located inside the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the last two cities are located outside of the region.

The plebiscite asked the voters if they wanted to replace the ARMM with the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) -- in line with the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Once the bill is ratified, the BARMM will be created.

According to figures of the Cotabato City Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (CPBOC), vote count has completed in the city and 36,682 "Yes" votes came out of the ballot boxes, while the number of "No" votes stood at 24,994.

The cities of Cotabato and Isabela, which will also become part of the BARMM, were considered critical areas during the campaign.

People in the Cotabato City have already started to celebrate the result by taking the street despite the curfew from evening hours to morning.

In Maguindanao province, the stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), around 608,000 "Yes" votes and 9,000 "No" votes came out of the boxes.

It is also said that in Lanao Del Sur’s capital city of Marawi almost all of the votes were casted in favor of the BOL.

Vote count continues

The Philippines Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expected to announce results of the BOL vote at 1 p.m. local time (0500 GMT) on Wednesday.

It is stated by the commission that the delay in announcing the results was due to lack of personnel.

Carlito Galvez, Philippines’ presidential peace advisor, called the BOL plebiscite a “democratic exercise”, according to local news.

“While there were some initial concerns, no major incident occurred […] The casualty count at the end of the day stood at zero,” the local Manila Bulletin quoted Galvez as saying.

Bangsamoro Organic Law

BOL, which was signed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2018, will increase legal and economic gains of the Muslims in the region.

The law will provide more autonomy than the existing autonomous structure in some areas of Mindanao province and the surrounding islands.

With the new arrangements, an autonomous Bangsamoro government will be established and the capital of the BARMM will be Cotabato City.

The courts of Islamic Law will be opened in the region.

Regional authorities will be handed over to the Bangsamoro government from the Manila government.

Internal waters in Bangsamoro region will be will be managed together with the national government. The autonomous administration will undertake the management of energy sources.

Fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the MILF would also join the law enforcement forces in the region.

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