Comelec: Bangsamoro plebiscite generally peaceful

Plebiscite returns are opened in the presence of poll watchers by the Cotabato City Plebiscite Board of Canvassers inside the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in Cotabato City on 22 January 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/ 22 January) — The conduct of the plebiscite on Monday to ratify Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was generally peaceful, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Tuesday.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez described the plebiscite as a success.

“It was a clean and peaceful elections, except for Cotabato City,” he said.

The plebiscite covers the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which straddles the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.

Rey Sumalipao, Comelec-ARMM director, placed the voters’ turnout at 85 percent.

ARMM and the cities of Isabela in Basilan and Cotabato have a total voting population of around 2.1 million. The two cities are not part of ARMM.

Once ratified, RA 11054 will establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to replace the 28-year-old ARMM.

In Cotabato City, which twice rejected inclusion to the ARMM, Jimenez said some glitches marred the plebiscite.

There was a problem with crowd management in some polling precincts in Cotabato City, he said.

Some non-registered voters loitered in some polling precincts that caused intimidating pressure there, Jimenez said.

At least two persons were mauled outside a polling center for allegedly being flying voters.

‘No’ votes leading in Cotabato City

Votes against the inclusion of this city in the BARMM are slightly leading.

Based on partial and official results as of 1 p.m., the Cotabato City Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (CCPBC) said that 13,681 voted against and 13,484 in favor of the inclusion of the city in the BARMM, or a difference of 197 against the inclusion.

150 out of 374 precincts, or around 43 percent, have been canvassed, the CCPBC said.

Cotabato City has total registered voters of 113,751.

Voters in Simuay Junction Central Elementary School in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat walk past heavily armed soldiers on January 21, 2019, day of the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Law. The school is where MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim is a registered voter.

The Comelec placed this city under its control due to the security situation in the area and the intense rivalry between those who favor and oppose the inclusion of the city in the future BARMM.

On New Year’s Eve, a powerful bomb exploded outside a mall here that killed two persons and wounded over 30 others.

Two grenade explosions also hit the city Sunday night just a few hours before the polling precincts opened on Monday.

The canvassing for Cotabato City is being held at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex here.

Canvassing was also ongoing for other areas in the ARMM, including in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.

The canvassing for Maguindanao province is being held at the ARMM regional library.

The Regional Board of Canvassers was expected to convene at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at the Regional Legislative Assembly.

There were no reports of lawless armed groups, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, sabotaging the conduct of the plebiscite on Monday.

Also on Tuesday, Major General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said the plebiscite in Maguindanao and Cotabato City were generally peaceful.

“The positive outcome is attributed to the close coordination and synchronized efforts between the security forces and the COMELEC together with the concerned stakeholders,” he said in a statement.

The “yes” vote is overwhelming based on the unofficial count especially in Maguindanao, Sobejana said.

The MILF forces numbering around 6,000 from various base commands were monitored inside this city on Monday, he said.

They already left the city last night and returned to their respective areas in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sarangani, he said.

There are still MILF forces in the city but they are residents there, he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)