MILF denies hand in explosions prior to second Bangsamoro plebiscite

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 6) — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday denied a Lanao del Norte official's accusation the rebel group was behind the series of bombings in Mindanao a day before the second round of the Bangsamoro plebiscite.

MILF Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim said there's no basis for Lanao del Norte Governor Imelda Dimaporo's accusation that the MILF's top commander was behind the three bombings on Tuesday.

He said resorting to violence will only discourage voters to go out and vote on their town's inclusion in the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

"Hindi katanggap-tanggap na ibibintang sa amin kaagad without any proof. We have been campaigning very hard na walang magiistorbo sa plebisito dahil alam namin na kailangan bumoto ang mga tao. If there are disturbances, that will discourage voters to go to voting places. Ang magiging biktima nito ang plebisito. We are denying mayroon involvement ang MILF forces," Murad told CNN Philippines.

He said there is a possibility the bombings were carried out by those who want to sabotage the second plebiscite.

"Ang mga very close na magsa-sabotage ang mga taong hindi umaayon sa plebisito. Sa panig namin, wala kaming inaapela kung hindi pabotohin ang mga tao. Huwag i-intimidate at huwag i-manipulate ang resulta ng plebisito," he said.

Dimaporo, who has campaigned against the inclusion of six towns in her province in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said she suspects Commader Al Mujahid Abdullah "Bravo" Macapaar was behind the blast.

Two explosions were reported in the towns of Kauswagan and Lala in Lanao del Norte a day before the plebiscite. The third explosion rocked Sultan Naga Dimaporo at around 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Related: Explosions in Mindanao reported a day before BOL plebiscite

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said the bombings can be seen as scare tactics.

 

MILF intimidation?

A video of Commander Bravo surfaced on Tuesday night where he was seen talking to his men in Maranao language and ordering them to go down to areas near the highway on plebiscite day.

Murad said the MILF forces have been instructed to coordinate with government forces and local authorities before implementing new plans. He added they are allowed to be deployed, but they will be going around as civilians without firearms.

This was seconded by Bravo, saying his men were ordered not to use force as they go down from the mountains, protect the civilians especially those who will vote "yes."

Bravo also told them to be ready to defend the people's votes in case someone will try to spoil the plebiscite. The commander and his men will also avoid going to crowded areas.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it expects around 640,000 residents to participate in the second referendum, which will take place from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m Wednesday. It estimated results to be released four days after the plebiscite.

The poll body on January 25 announced the ratification of BOL four days after 1,540,017 residents in the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) voted "yes" to the creation of the entity.

Cotabato City, which is not an official part of ARMM, will also join the new Bangsamoro region after majority of its residents cast their votes in favor of inclusion. Isabela City in Basilan, however, rejected to be part of the new region.

When the areas covered by the BARMM are established, President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to appoint members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which will include incumbent officials of the regional government.

The BTA will have legislative and executive powers during the transition period. It will be considered the Bangsamoro government during the transition and will have exclusive powers over budgeting, justice, agriculture, human rights and tourism, among others.

CNN Philippines correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.