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

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.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.