Leader of Philippines separatist group casts vote in historic referendum

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Voters were watched over by a contingent of 20,000 police and soldiers. (AN photo)
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Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al-Haj Ebrahim Murad casts his vote for the first time as he participated in the historic plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law. (AN photo)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Leader of Philippines separatist group casts vote in historic referendum

  • Law seen as solution to decades of separatist conflict in Mindanao
  • Some 2.8 million voters have registered for the referendum

SULTAN KUDARAT, MAGUINDANAO: Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim on Monday cast his vote for the first time in a historic referendum seeking to ratify a law that will give more autonomy to the Philippines’ Muslim minority.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is seen as the solution to the decades of separatist conflict in Mindanao, a region plagued by poverty and violent extremism.

Some 2.8 million voters have registered for the referendum.

“This is my first time to vote,” said Murad. “During the height of the war, we never thought that this would happen. But after the progress of the peace process, we see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.” 

It took the leader of the MILF, formerly the biggest Muslim group in the country, only a few minutes to case his “yes” vote. 

“I am happy that at least for the first time, I have exercised my right of suffrage,” he later said, adding that his participation in the voting signals the commencement of their transition from a revolutionary into the democratic process.

Like Murad, thousands of MILF fighters, along with their families, also trooped to polling centers yesterday to take part in the voting process, many of them for the first time.

“We are hoping that with this development, we can finally achieve the aspiration of our people for peace, progress and a good life in this part of the country and in the entire country,” Murad said.

Murad said that after the plebiscite, “hopefully the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the transitional government, will be immediately established and we will start to organize our government structure and after the BTA, a regular government in 2022.”

Murad said that once the BOL is implemented, their priorities would be education, medical services, social services,and infrastructure, adding that education was their top priority. 

“For more than 50 years of war, many of our people have not obtained education. We cannot really progress if our people are not educated,” he said.

Murad said that as long as the vote is conducted in a fair manner with no manipulation, intimidation or cheating, they are “determined to accept whatever is the result.”

If the BOL is not ratified, Murad said they would press the government to come to an agreement with the MILF. 

“One lesson we have learned in our struggle of more than 50 years is that although we resort to armed struggle as an option, we always see that the solution to the problem is peace,” he said. 

“The important thing is we will not close our door for peace because war is not a solution. The solution is still peace. So that is why for us, just to defend ourselves, we resort to armed struggle. But we never hesitate to go back to negotiation. And that, I think, contributed to our success in this peace process.”

Meanwhile, tension gripped one of the biggest polling centers in Cotabato City, in which a huge number of men reportedly arrived at the scene.

The military deployed troops and vehicles at the Cotabato City Central Pilot School as heavily armed policemen stood guard outside the school.


Sixteen states sue Trump over border wall emergency

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, accompanied by Gov. Gavin Newsom, said California will probably sue President Donald Trump over his emergency declaration to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP)
Updated 20 min 26 sec ago
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Sixteen states sue Trump over border wall emergency

  • The complaint added that the Department of Homeland Security had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate the environmental impact of the wall in California and New Mexico

SAN FRANCISCO: Sixteen US states sued President Donald Trump’s administration Monday over his decision to declare a national emergency to fund a wall on the southern border with Mexico, saying the move violated the constitution.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California, said the president’s order was contrary to the Presentment Clause that outlines legislative procedures and the Appropriations Clause, which defines Congress as the final arbiter of public funds.
The move had been previously announced by Xavier Becerra the attorney general of California who said his state and others had legal standing because they risked losing moneys intended for military projects, disaster assistance and other purposes.
Several Republican senators have decried the emergency declaration, saying it establishes a dangerous precedent and amounts to executive overreach.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia are party to the complaint seeking an injunction.
“Use of those additional federal funds for the construction of a border wall is contrary to Congress’s intent in violation of the US Constitution, including the Presentment Clause and Appropriations Clause,” the complaint said.
It added that Trump had “veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making.”
“Congress has repeatedly rebuffed the president’s insistence to fund a border wall, recently resulting in a record 35-day partial government shutdown over the border wall dispute,” the document read.
“After the government reopened, Congress approved, and the president signed into law, a $1.375 billion appropriation for fencing along the southern border, but Congress made clear that funding could not be used to build President Trump’s proposed border wall.”
The complaint added that the Department of Homeland Security had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate the environmental impact of the wall in California and New Mexico.
Friday’s declaration enables the president to divert funds from the Pentagon’s military construction budget and other sources.