Christian and Muslim religious leaders in the southern Philippines have vowed to work for the ratification of a proposed law that will create an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao. The new region, which will be called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, will be bigger than the current entity
and will have fiscal autonomy and its own justice system. "We will go all out to win the hearts and minds of the electorate," said Dr. Hamid Barra of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines. A plebiscite to ratify the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law is scheduled on Jan. 21, 2019, across Mindanao. Barra called it a "milestone towards the realization of self-determination for the Bangsamoro (local Muslims), as well as peace and development for all people in Mindanao." Father Clifford Baira, social action director of Cotabato Archdiocese, said the group Christians for Peace would also conduct an information awareness campaign on key points of the law. He said Christians in Mindanao have already come up with a 17-point "Christian Settlers' Peace and Development Agenda" for the proposed Bangsamoro region. President Rodrigo Duterte signed in July the Bangsamoro Organic Law
, which is anchored to a peace agreement signed by the government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014. Last week, the international donor community reiterated its support for the Mindanao peace process during a meeting with top government and rebel leaders, Ola Almgren, resident coordinator of the United Nations in the Philippines
, stressed the need for synergy among international donor agencies in the implementation of programs and projects. "There must be an alignment of our plans with those of the Bangsamoro," said the U.N. official. In a statement, Jesus Dureza, Duterte's peace adviser, underscored the role of foreign partners in implementing the peace process. "Expectations from the people are very high. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done," he said. Dureza said the high poverty incidence, a dearth of job opportunities, and the lack of adequate infrastructure are among the major concerns confronting the southern Philippines.