Comelec: Low voter turnout in North Cotabato

Voters look for their names at the Sambulawan Elementary School in Barangay Sambulawan, Midsayap, North Cotabato on February 6, 2019 as a soldier stands guard. MindaNews photo by BONG SARMIENTO

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato (MindaNews/6 February) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Region 12 said there was a low voter turnout in North Cotabato in Wednesday’s plebiscite on the inclusion of 67 barangays in seven towns of the province in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

“We would be lucky if the voters’ turnout will reach even 60 percent,” lawyer Michael Abas, Comelec-12 director told reporters in a briefing at the municipal hall here over an hour after polling precincts closed at 3 p.m.

“People were not interested in this electoral exercise despite the campaign urging them to participate in the process,” he said.

Abas said he expected the canvassing of election returns from the 67 barangays to be completed on Friday or two days after the plebiscite even if the voter turnout in the province was lower than the January 21 plebiscite’s turnout of more than 85 percent.

He said the completion of the counting of votes and the municipal canvassing would take two days since in some areas, “there are many questions.”

A voter writes on her ballot in a polling precinct in Barangay Bagoinged inside Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp Raja Muda in Pikit, North Cotabato during the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Law on 6 February 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

For instance, voters in Pikit town had to answer 23 plebiscite questions that will take time to tally, he added.

After the election returns are canvassed in the municipality, it will be submitted to the national board in Manila, he said.

The official said all the plebiscite committee members performed their duties, unlike in Cotabato City during the January 21 plebiscite where over 70 teachers failed to render their service due to security threats.

Police officers trained to act as Board of Election inspectors filled up the teachers’ roles in Cotabato City, which voted for inclusion to the BARMM.

In North Cotabato, the 67 villages, 39 of which voted yes during the 2001 plebiscite, belong to the towns of Midsayap, Pikit, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Carmen, Kabacan and Tulunan.

Senior Supt. Oliver Enmodias, Police Regional Office-12 deputy director for operations, described the conduct of the plebiscite as generally peaceful.

Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces fighters travel on motorcycles in Barangay Bagoinged inside Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp Raja Muda in Pikit, North Cotabato on 6 February 2019, plebiscite day for the Bangsamoro Law. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Enmodias said there was case of an unnamed person who snatched a voting form from a voter inside the precinct and then tore it.

Two MG-520 attack helicopters from the Armed Forces of the Philippines flew over towns where the plebiscite was held as part of the measures to secure the elections.

At the Indayla Silongan Elementary School in Barangay Kapinpilan here, polling precincts opened on time at 7 a.m., with several voters seen already waiting for their turn to vote.

Toto Kunakon, village chair of Kapinpilan, said they want to become part of the BARMM “as it will open promising new doors for the Bangsamoro people.”

Kapinpilan is a stronghold of the Moro National Liberation Front faction loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari.

“This (BARMM) will put a period to the conflict in Mindanao and will bring peace and development to our communities,” said Kunakon, who became a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front before becoming a local government official.

“We are tired of war,” noted Kunakon, who said he voted “yes” for the inclusion of his village for the sake of the future generation.

Thirteen villages here, 12 of which voted for inclusion in the 2001 plebiscite, wished to be part of the BARMM. Midsayap has 57 barangays.

At 6:30 p.m. the municipal board of canvassers here convened but immediately declared a recess until 9 p.m. due to lack of watchers and submitted election returns.

Reynaldo Tubelonia, the municipal Comelec officer, chairs the board.

Earlier in the day, he said they received complaints that some voters could not find their names.

Their names might have been taken off the voters’ list because either they have not voted twice in a row or they have double registration, he explained. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)