Leader of Philippines separatist group casts vote in historic referendum

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)
Leader of Philippines separatist group casts vote in historic referendum
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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

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.


LIVE: Donald Trump leaves White House ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania make their way to board Marine One before departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021. (AFP)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania make their way to board Marine One before departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 32 sec ago

LIVE: Donald Trump leaves White House ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania make their way to board Marine One before departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021. (AFP)
  • Joe Biden will be sworn in later on Wednesday afternoon
  • Ceremony will take place amid heightened tensions and a massive security operatio

LONDON: The US is braced for one of the highest profile handovers of the presidency in its history. Donald Trump left the White House on Wednesday with First Lady Melania, before attending a military send-off at Joint Base Andrews.

Joe Biden will be sworn in at 5 p.m. GMT (8 p.m. KSA) and take the oath of office alongside Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The ceremony will take place amid heightened tensions and a massive security operation after a deadly riot at the US Capitol earlier this month.

Follow live updates of the inauguration below (all times GMT):

14:00 - Trump said he will be “back in some form” before boarding Air Force One for Florida.

“This has been an incredible four years,” Trump said in brief remarks to staff, supporters and members of his family gathered at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington. “We've accomplished so much together, I will always fight for you. We will be back in some form.”

Trump did not address Biden by name but said he wishs the new administration “great luck and great success.”

13:30 - Trump makes his final speech as President of the United States, saying it had been the greatest honor of his life. Watch it below: