MANILA - Political leaders in Mindanao must sacrifice their own interests in order to end decades of strife in the restive south, Bangsamoro Transition Commission Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said Tuesday, as tensions have flared up ahead of the upcoming plebiscite for a new Bangsamoro territory.
"I don't know why they cannot sacrifice their political interest for the general interest of our people," he told ANC's "Beyond Politics."
Jaafar said they have received overwhelming support from the public for Republic Act 11054 or Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which would grant greater fiscal and political power in a new autonomous region in Mindanao.
"The opposition did not come from the masses but it came from individuals, personalities who maybe have further interests," he added.
Some 2.8 million people are expected to take part in the historic Jan. 21 plebiscite to ratify the BOL, created in 2014 as part of peace deal between the government and the Philippines’ largest Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
"The Bangsamoro issue is all about the legitimate desire of the Bangsamoro people to have a government that they can govern... a government, which guarantee the rights of every citizen in that area, and a government that will bring in peace with dignity and justice," Jaafar said.
Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, in an earlier interview, said the city can thrive even without partaking of a P80-billion annual grant under the proposed Bangsamoro region.
She had also said that locals who share her views have been experiencing harassment in connection with the plebiscite.
Weeks before residents could vote or approve the BOL, a blast occurred outside a shopping mall in Cotabato City, which claimed 2 lives and left more than 30 others wounded.
Jaafar however doesn't share the same view with Guiani-Sayadi, saying Cotabato City is the heartland of Maguindanao.
"So if Cotabato City is not included in the Bangsamoro government, I think it will be very hard for the people there," he said.
For Professor Julkipli Wadi of the University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies, Cotabato City's non-inclusion may send a wrong signal that MILF couldn't control the city it is closest to.
"If Cotabato will not joint the MILF-led Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao...how can you convince other areas of the future BARMM or the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region?" he said.
Wadi stressed that the enabling law is the closest that the MILF has reached in pursuit of genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao.
For the people's voice to be heard, Jaafar urged the authorities to secure the plebiscite and prevent intimidation and vote-buying.
"What I see is that the possibility of defeating the BOL in certain places is that if the people will be prevented from voting," he said.