No security threat to second Bangsamoro plebiscite – Moro leader

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim said authorities have yet to see potential security threats in areas covered by the second Bangsamoro plebiscite on Wednesday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines on Tuesday, Murad said security forces in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato will still be on full alert.

"Wala naman tayong nakikitang tensyon as of now kaya lang siguro sa panig ng ating mga security forces ng gobyerno, nag-iingat lang sila," the rebel group leader said in an interview with CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon.

[Translation: We don't see any tensions as of now but maybe on the part of our government security forces, they're just making sure.]

"Sa aming panig, ang importante lang ay mabigyan ang tao na bumoto according to their own choice, hindi yung pinipilit sila. It's a democratic process. Yun lang ang kailangan, walang manipulation, walang intimidation," he added.

[Translation: For our part, the important thing is the residents should be given the chance to vote according to their own choice, and not because they're being forced to. It's a democratic process. That's what we need-no manipulation, no intimidation.]

Murad, who voted for the first time during the first Bangsamoro plebiscite, also called on residents of the two provinces to participate in the referendum.

Over 3,000 police personnel and soldiers will be deployed in Lanao del Norte (except Iligan City), where voters will decide whether or not to include the towns of Tagoloan, Balo-i, Pantar, Munai, Tangcal, and Nunungan in the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

With tight security ahead of the plebiscite, Senior Supt. Leopoldo Cabanag, Lanao del Norte police chief, assured residents they are safe.

"Dahil ang kapulisan at army nandiyan palagi para proteksyunan ang taumbayan. Hindi sila dapat matakot sa sinasabing magkakaroon ng gulo dahil definitely, hindi mangyayari yun," Cabanag said.

[Translation: The police and army are always there to protect the citizenry. They shouldn't be scared of what they hear that there will be trouble because definitely, that will not happen.

Voters in seven North Cotabato towns will also decide on Wednesday if they will allow 67 of their barangays (villages) to become part of the new region.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it expects around 640,000 residents to participate in the plebiscite. The poll body also estimates results to be released four days after voting.

Comelec on January 25 announced the ratification of the Bangsamoro law, which is envisioned to end the decades-long conflict in Mindanao.