DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 January) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday said the discrepancies in statistical data indicated in the Certificate of Canvass (COC) on the number of registered voters and the number of those who actually voted in Cotabato City in the January 21 plebiscite were a “clerical error” that can be raised and corrected during the national canvass in Manila “without affecting the outcome of the plebiscite.”
But Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi said they will file a protest before the Comelec citing irregularities and threats. She told MindaNews Wednesday morning that the results “did not reflect the true will of the people of Cotabato.”
In Monday’s plebiscite to ratify RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the “yes” votes in Cotabato City won with 36,682 votes against 24,994 “no” votes, according to the Certificate of Canvass (COC) signed by Rommel Rama, chair of the City Plebiscite Board of Canvassers and members Mariam A.V. Mastura – Linsangan and Concepcion F. Balawag.
A “yes” vote means the city would be part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
The COC said the total number of precincts canvassed is 373, the total number of registered voters is 71,963 and 39,027 actually voted. In terms of voter turnout, that would translate to 54.23%.
The Comelec’s Project of Precincts states that the number of clustered precincts is 374 and the total number of registered voters is 113,751, not 71,963.
Adding the “yes” and “no” votes in the Certificate, however, shows the total of those who “actually voted” is 61,676, not 39,027.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez posted at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday an update on the Bangsamoro plebiscite, stating that “Cotabato City has 113,751 registered votes, 61,676 actually voted, for a voter turnout of 54.22%.”
Early Wednesday morning, Jimenez sent a message to reporters that “upon verification with the Project of Precincts, it would appear that a clerical error has been made. Such an error can be raised and corrected during the National Canvass, without affecting the outcome of the plebiscite, either in Cotabato City alone, or throughout the entire plebiscite area.”
Aside from the number of registered and those who actually voted, even the number of precincts canvassed was 373 in the certificate but in Comelec records is 374.
The National Board of Canvassers for the Bangsamoro plebiscite will convene at 1 p.m. in Manila, he said. But at noontime, Jimenez told reporters the NBOC has yet to receive has not received any COCs, and will instead convene at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
“True will of the people”
Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance said “the consequences of such mistakes increase the suspicion of people on the concluded plebiscite, to say the least.”
“How can the board make such mistakes?… Weird to say the least,” he said.
Mayor Sayadi, who campaigned for a “no to inclusion” in the BARMM told MindaNews on Monday that the election was “marred with violence and intimidation.
“We are filing a protest,” Sayadi replied to MindaNews’ query via SMS.
“From the threats the teachers received, to the grenades to scare the voters, to the thousands of MILF supporters who blocked the real voters, to the violence in some areas, to the massive disenfranchisement, plus the statistical improbability in those areas where the thousands of MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) outsiders dominated, and which the military and the PNP (Philippine National Police) were not able to control and so on.. we have lots of irregularities to mention,” she said.
The MILF is the signatory, with government, to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement signed in 2014, whose enabling law is RA 11054.
Sayadi said the voting last Monday “did not reflect the true will of the people of Cotabato. What were those outsiders doing inside Cotabato City? It is not that reactionary forces are prohibited under the Omnibus Election Code? I told you before about the abuses … it happened. It is real and actual and it will happen in the future. Those who voted no are harassed now. Where will they go? Who can protect them?”
Asked for a statement on the victory of the “yes” vote in Cotabato City Tuesday night, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim’s reply to MindaNews was: “Expected because we have already seen the overwhelming support of the people in Cotabato City for the Bangsamoro Organic Law during the conduct of rallies. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)