Voters have decisively approved a new Muslim-led region in the Philippines' south, which is hoped will bring a measure of peace after decades of fighting killed thousands and mired the area in poverty. The results, announced Friday, will begin the process of creating new Muslim autonomous region.
About 83 percent of the more than 1.84 million people who voted on Monday in the five provinces of what is currently known as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao chose to ratify the creation of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
The Commission on Elections added that the southern city of Cotabato, which was not included in the current autonomous region, has voted to join the new entity.
The creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region was a key provision in a peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters in 2014. A second round of voting will take place on Feb. 6 in two other provinces that are not part of the current 29-year-old autonomous region, which has remained highly dependent on the national government.
President Rodrigo Duterte, himself from Mindanao, has been a staunch supporter of the Bangsamoro and signed the law last year paving the way for the vote.
Under the terms of the law which lays out the region's powers, Bangsamoro will get $950 million in development funds over the next 10 years, as well as a chunk of the tax revenue generated within its borders and national receipts. Manila will keep control over the police, but it is hoped close cooperation on security with the Bangsamoro's leaders will help get a handle on the region's endemic lawlessness.
Muslims have long been seeking for independence or autonomy on Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland dating back to when Arab traders arrived there in the 13th century.
The Bangsamoro will expand and supersede an existing Muslim-led region which struggled to govern effectively due to limited powers and was hamstrung by alleged corruption.