MILF fears 'manipulation' in Bangsamoro plebiscite

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21) — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front fears a possible "manipulation" in the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) may undermine strong support for the law in Cotabato City.

"It is the local government [of Cotabato City] that is not supporting. What is apprehensive of this is there would be some kind of manipulation of the elections. Because if there is no manipulation, no intimidation, there would be an overwhelming 'yes' [vote] in Cotabato City," MILF chairperson Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday.

Murad said Christians and Muslims in Cotabato City, which is the seat of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but has twice rejected joining the region, are "very supportive" of inclusion in the proposed Bangsamoro ARMM (BARMM).

Murad said he hopes the police and military would thwart any attempt at "manipulation" or "intimidation" as Cotabato City is under Commission on Elections control in the wake of a bombing in a mall on New Year's Eve.

Mayor Cynthia Guiani has openly opposed the inclusion of her city in the BARMM, citing support from the locals.

"Ang totoo po niyan, sir, gusto nila angkinin ang Cotabato, dahil maganda na ang Cotabato. Gusto nila sakupin para sa kapakanan nila, para sa pangsarili lang po," Amil Zola, a barangay official, told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: The truth of it all, sir, is that they want to take Cotabato, because Cotabato is already great. They want to seize the city for their own good, only for their own interests.]

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez told CNN Philippines that a "confidential survey" was held in the areas covered by the proposed BARMM in the months leading to the plebiscite. It showed that Cotabato City could cast an "overwhelming" yes vote of at least 70 percent.

Aside from Cotabato City, Murad admitted that the BOL would face challenges in Isabela City in Basilan province, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 49 barangays in North Cotabato, all of which are not part of the ARMM.

Voters in Cotabato, Isabela and the ARMM decide on Monday whether or not to ratify the BOL, while select municipalities in Lanao del Norte, select barangays in North Cotabato and 28 other barangays which petitioned for inclusion would be voting on February 6.

The BARMM establishes a new political entity governed by a democratic parliamentary form of government. Its proponents and supporters tout the measure as the key to economic prosperity and lasting peace in Mindanao.

"It will not solve all of the security problems, there are other lawless elements. But you have a full force formerly fighting government, now committed to keeping the peace," former Presidential Peace Adviser Ging Deles told CNN Philippines' The Source.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.