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Mindanao votes on creation of new Muslim region

MANILA (UCAN): Muslims and Christians in the southern Philippines cast their votes on January 21 on whether to approve Bangsamoro Organic Law which will expand the current Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
The creation of a new political entity in the predominantly Muslim region is part of a peace deal entered into by the Philippine government with Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.
The Commission on Elections said that about 2.5 million out of 2.8 million registered voters in the region had been expected to head to polling stations.
If ratified, the Bangsamoro Organic Law will pave the way for the replacement of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with an expanded entity and will come into effect five years after the signing of the peace agreement.
Both Muslim and Christian leaders are confident of a yes vote.
“Many people now understand that the only way forward is to take the path to peace,” Drieza Lininding, chairperson of the Moro Consensus Group said.
Father Ramonito Torres, vicar-general of the Prelature of St. Mary in the city of Marawi, said ratification will be the basis “for interreligious dialogue among the peoples of Mindanao.”
He said, “If we give peace a chance, (the Bangsamoro Organic Law) has to be given a chance.” 
Usman Sarangani, one of the reigning sultans of Mindanao, said traditional leadership would play an important role in the new region.
He said traditional leaders like himself are “indispensable in running the affairs” of the Bangsamoro government, especially when it comes to peace and order.
Under the new law, sultans and datus (rulers of indigenous groups) will act as advisers to the chief minister because they are “effective in conflict resolution.”
In Manila, interfaith groups stepped up what they described were “solidarity actions” for people in Mindanao.
On the eve of the vote, advocates and students at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University celebrated Mass in support of the peace process.
Jesuit Father Vic de Jesus, said the end of decades of armed conflict in the southern Philippines “is a victory for many who have worked to enable a process for justice and peace to prevail.”
He said the work of Christians in the peace process was “more than just for the cessation of hostilities but for historical injustices to be addressed and reconciliation to be made possible.”
An estimated 120,000 people have been killed during the decades-long conflict in Mindanao.
Last week, Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, said a vote for ratification of the law would serve as a testament to the people’s determination “to bring genuine peace and development.”
Under the law, the national government will retain police and military forces in the area while the rebels are expected to lay down their weapons in phases.

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