Comelec pegs Bangsamoro plebiscite for January 2019

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FILE. A ceremony for the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) will be held tomorrow, August 6, at the Malacanang Palace.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 7) — The plebiscite determining the scope of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao could be held by January next year, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.

"The December [or] January timeline would be more realistic at this point," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told CNN Philippines.

Comelec Commissioner Sheriff Abas pegged the same schedule on Monday. On the same day, the House Committee on Appropriations allotted a ₱854 million budget for polls in January 2019.

The plebiscite will determine whether Cotabato City in Maguindanao, Isabela City in Basilan, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, and 39 barangays in North Cotabato will be included in the new region. It must be held between three to five months after the law is signed.

READ: The Bangsamoro Organic Law: Everything you need to know

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said that if Cotabato City elects to join the Bangsamoro, it could be designated as the capital of the region.

The Comelec on Monday said that it needed a ₱854 million budget for the polls. There was no breakdown in the presentation of the House Appropriations Committee.

"Walang pondong pagkukunan, although the (Department of Budget and Management) already gave us the assurance na hahanapan nila ng paraan," Abas said.

[Translation: We don't have funds, although the DBM already gave us assurance that they would find a way.]

Majority Leader and Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) sponsor Migz Zubiri told CNN Philippines' The Source a vote in November was also possible.

"They have to come up with the [implementing rules regulations] on the plebiscites on the other areas which are not already included in ARMM," Zubiri said.

Once passed, President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to appoint 80 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) — which automatically includes incumbent officials of the Regional Government — and an interim Chief Minister. The Minister will organize an interim Cabinet.

The BTA will hold legislative and executive powers until the first local elections will be held in 2022.

The BOL is a landmark piece of legislation that allows the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front to decommission and enables Muslim Mindanao to assemble its own parliamentary government. The ceremonial signing of the law, which is widely seen as a milestone in the peace process, was held on Monday.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel and digital producer Ver Marcelo contributed to this report.