The Philippine National Police (PNP) will deploy a battalion of its elite Special Action Force (SAF) in Mindanao to beef up security forces and ensure peaceful and orderly conduct of the plebiscite for the ratification of Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
Even as this developed, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported it foiled an armed group’s bid to transport an improvised explosive device to Cotabato City after a brief firefight in Sultan Sa Barungis, Maguindanao resulting in the recovery of three 81mm mortar shells with a trigerring device.
PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde yesterday said the SAF troopers will be sent to Cotabato City three days before the 21 January scheduled plebiscite.
The government security cluster identified Cotabato City and some parts of Lanao provinces as among the “critical areas” in connection with the BOL plebiscite.
“We will be sending troops from the SAF and we will be having a sendoff on 18 January. Right there in Cotabato, we will be sending one battalion as augmentation,” Albayalde said.
The plebiscite would be held just four days before the fourth anniversary of the 25 January 2015 Mamasapano massacre when 44 members of the elite police commando were killed in a firefight with Moro rebels which doomed the approval of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Regional Public Safety Battalion units in Luzon were also placed on standby for possible deployment in Mindanao, if necessary, according to Albayalde.
Last 31 December, an improvised explosive device exploded at a shopping mall in Cotabato City — killing two persons and wounding more than 30 others. Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi claimed they received the threat from a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader prior to the bomb attack.
The MILF has already committed to the peaceful holding of the plebiscite for BOL which was the result of its decades-long peace negotiations with the Philippine government.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri yesterday lauded the Supreme Court (SC) for refusing to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the BOL plebiscite.
Zubiri maintained the BOL Congress passed almost unanimously and signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last year could stand questions on its constitutionality.
The Sulu provincial government and the Philippine Constitutional Association filed separate petitions against the BOL last year. On Tuesday, the SC consolidated the two cases and gave the parties 10 days to file comment without granting the petitioner’s prayer for a TRO.
“I laud and thank the Supreme Court on their decision not to grant a TRO on the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” Zubiri said.
“This will now pave the way for a smooth and orderly plebiscite that I believe will usher in the peace and prosperity that we sorely need in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” he added.