Reading through the plebiscite result


For reasons hitherto unexplained, there were two rounds of plebiscite conducted for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that creates the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Was it designed to protect or promote the interest of certain powerful lawmakers-politicians?

There were tragic incidents that threatened to derail the polls like the bloody carnage at the cathedral in Jolo, the bombing in Cotabato City and the harassment bombings in Lanao del Norte, but the plebiscite went through as scheduled. The toll was heavy, in terms of lives lost and injuries inflicted. These happened proximate to the day of the polls (Are authorities pretty sure these have nothing to do with the referendum?).

The result of the plebiscite is a top topic among armchair Monday morning quarterbacks. The uninitiated are asking why did Sulu and Isabela City vote to reject BOL while the city mayor of Cotabato is questioning the integrity of the result in her city (ironically, Cotabato City has always been the de facto capital of the Autonomous government since its inception and its inclusion is welcome development). How did the few villages in North Cotabato succeed to be part of the territory of BARMM while the six towns in Lanao del Norte failed in their bid despite their “Yes” vote?

These questions betray ignorance of the socio-cultural and political dynamics in Morolandia and the “lopsided” provisions of the autonomy law which required a “double majority” or majority of votes in both the mother geographical unit and component local units subject of the plebiscite (This is one of the contentious issues raised by the Tan petition before the Supreme Court still pending resolution).

To those who followed the saga of Moros for autonomy and the peculiar socio-cultural variances in the area the result was expected. Tribalism and politics are very much alive among Moros.

As this column has predicted, the “Yes” vote was overwhelming in mainland Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur-Marawi City while it barely won in the island provinces of what we often refer as BASULTA or Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The “No” votes in Sulu were buried in the landslide votes of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao where there were precincts which registered zero votes for “No.” The rejection of the BOL in Sulu didn’t count because of the peculiar provision in the BOL that the component provinces and cities of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should vote as one geographical unit. The “No” vote in Isabela was also expected, being dominated by non-Moros and, in fact, not part of the ARMM. In Lanao del Norte, about nine towns voted for inclusion but it was not enough to offset the “No” vote majority province-wide. But it was an ominous sign of a chink in the political armor of the decades-long ruling dynastic Dimaporo family. If not for their wholehearted and intense campaign they would have lost the six towns that wished to be included in the BARMM territory.

Tribalism is a major factor that could explain the outcome. The major Moro tribes all claim maharlika ancestry and royal blood. One tribe can never be a vassal of another. The Sultan of Sulu, proud of his lineage and heritage is independent and autonomous from the Sultan of Maguindanao and Raja Buaya-an, just as the 4 Panoroganans or Royal Houses of Lanao are sovereign within its territories.

The polarization of the Moros is endemic and has reared its ugly head at the onset of the struggle for merdeka or independence. The Tausug Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) started the campaign, but the Maguindanaon members broke away organizing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front followed by the Maranaws also organizing their own MNLF-Reformist Group.

On hindsight, during the formative years of autonomy, then President Marcos, ever sensitive to the history, socio-cultural variances and nobility claims among Moros split the short-lived Southern Philippines Autonomous Region into two Autonomous Regions, one for Central Mindanao and another for the Western side. It was a solomonic solution to resolve the rivalry among tribes in mainland Mindanao and BASULTA.

The campaign for the BOL may have triggered friction among stakeholders which needs healing. The BARMM is new untested government and its path strewn with hurdles. It needs shepherding by central government and support from all sectors, irrespective of tribal identity and bias.


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