Frustrated and disappointed over the “death” of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Muslims of the Southern Philippines are rooting for Presidential frontrunner Rody Duterte because his advocacy on Federalism could yet prove to be the best hope for peace.
While most of the traditional political leaders in the region have pledged support to other candidates, the Bangsamoro civil society and civilian leaders said they will “offer their lives” to protect Duterte’s votes from an area notorious for rigging elections in favour of administration candidates.
Appearing as guest in yesterday’s “Mindanao, Panahon Na!’ program aired over seven radio stations all over Central Mindanao, lawyer Ranibai Dilangalen, said the Federal system of government which Duterte proposes is acceptable to most Bangsamoro leaders in view of the thrashing of the BBL.
While she admitted that supporters of the BBL in the Bangsamoro community, especially the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), were deeply hurt and disappointed by the failure of the administration of President Aquino to pass the BBL, Dilangalen said they are pinning their hopes on Duterte to bring about peace in the Southern Philippines.
“The Federal system of government which he (Duterte) advocates is acceptable to the Bangsamoro and because of that we are going to support his candidacy,” she said.
“We have already talked to the traditional political leaders and asked them to respect the will of the Bangsamoro people in this election,” Dilangalen said when asked how the civilian leaders would protect Duterte’s votes.
In the Federal System of government which Duterte and the stalwarts of his party, PDP Laban, are advocating, the Muslims of the Philippines, with an estimated population of about 12-million, are promised two Federal States – one of the Bangsamoro tribes in the main island of Mindanao and another for the seafaring tribes in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.
The rest of the areas of the country will also be Federalised with highly autonomous states very much like the proposed Bangsamoro State under the BBL but without the proposed autonomous police force and armed forces.
There is no exact data on the number of Bangsamoro voters in the Philippines but estimates say there are between 4 to 5 million who have registered to vote in the coming elections, including those living in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.
Fiercely clannish, the votes of Muslims of the Southern Philippines have proved to be pivotal in many close elections in the past.
Muslim votes were a critical factor in narrow victory scored by President Fidel V. Ramos over Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago in 1992 and in 2004 when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo squeaked past actor Fernando Poe Jr. in an election which was widely believed to have been rigged.
Dilangalen said that in addition to the very appealing Federalism advocacy of Duterte, his blood ties to the Bangsamoro have made him an emotional favorite for the Muslims of the Philippines.
Duterte traces his maternal roots to a grandmother who was a full-blooded Maranao, one of the Muslim tribes in the Southern Philippines.
A victory by Duterte in May would make him the first President of the Philippines to come from Mindanao and the first to have a Bangsamoro blood.
Duterte’s fair treatment of the Muslims in Davao City, even at the height of the war between the government and Moro rebel groups, has endeared him to the Bangsamoro.
He appointed Deputy Mayors representing the different Moro and indigenous tribes in his city and worked for the passage of an Anti-Discrimination ordinance which imposed stiff fines and jail terms for those who will display biases against the Muslims and the tribes.
(Photo shows lawyer Ranibai Dilangalen in her appearance in the radio program “Mindanao, Panahon Na!” Monday, John Pagaduan)