In July 2018 President Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), and agreed to a referendum to give voters in the ARMM the final say. If passed, the BOL paves the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Regional Government, that will replace the current ARMM authorities. The regional government would have greater financial autonomy and a more representative parliamentary system. The BOL is a product of the peace agreement signed between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014, which allowed for the establishment of a new self-governing region.
Together with our partners in the ARMM we are supporting a campaign to ensure that voters have the knowledge they need ahead of the referendum. An informed vote can only happen if all voters have the correct information about how to take part in the referendum, understand the key issues and what these mean for them, and are able to make their own decisions without external influence.
A large part of the campaign has focused on myth-busting, and tackling dangerous ‘fake news’ which has been circulating in the region. A lot of the pre-referendum rhetoric has created a false narrative on the potential impact of the law on non-Muslims living in Mindanao:
One of the main aims of the campaign is to explain to non-Muslim settlers in Mindanao that the BOL will not compel them to be ‘Islamised’, or force them to stop practising their daily routines and way of life. Women will not have to start wearing hijabs, and the eating of pork will not be banned for non-Muslims. We have also explained that under the BOL, land will not be taken away from settlers and Indigenous groups in favour to Muslims.
Paul Adolfo, Conciliation Resources Mindanao Programme Manager
Since October 2017 our partner, United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) has been running educational activities and dialogue events to spread this message:
We have run activities such as interfaith dialogues with our brothers and sisters who are non-Muslim so that they can understand better what the BOL is, and what it means for them.
Badrodin Mamendeg, North Cotabato UNYPAD coordinator
Ensuring that often marginalised communities are able to take part in the referendum has also been an important part of the campaign. Our partner Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organisation, who works with indigenous groups in Mindanao, has been helping to explain the referendum to indigenous communities. Under the BOL a Ministry for Indigenous Peoples would be created, responsible for ancestral land rights and the preservation of customs and traditions:
There are many provisions in the BOL which recognise and protect the rights of indigenous peoples. We have been coordinating with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission [the body tasked with drafting the BOL] to ensure they understand the importance of indigenous groups participating in the plebiscite.
Froilyn Mendoza, Executive Director, Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organisation
The result of the referendum will likely have an impact on the future of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Whatever the result, our hope is that people vote with the correct information to hand and the referendum is carried out peacefully, paving the way for communities within the ARMM to continue living in peace.
This work is supported by the European Union and led by Conciliation Resources’ local partners - The Teduray Lambangian Women´s Organisation (TLWOI) and United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD).