By Zea Capistrano, Armando Fenequito Jr., Bonita Ermac, Keith Bacongco
COTABATO CITY – Except for some isolated incidents in this city, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said that the conduct of the plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) on Monday was “really peaceful.”
“It was not only generally peaceful, it was really peaceful. Not a single complaint received by the Comelec. Except for Cotabato City where there was a delay, but the conduct of the plebiscite in the other areas was orderly,” Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Comelec Regional Director Ray Sumalipao said.
Even the Philippine National Police (PNP) said the conduct of the BOL plebiscite was peaceful.
“The plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law went underway as scheduled on the first working hour today (Monday) in 1,157 voting centers in the ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi; and in 71 voting centers in Cotabato City and Isabela City in Basilan,” said PNP chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde in a press briefing in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
“One-hundred percent ng Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi tapos na. Nabuksan na ng nasa tamang oras. Ang naging problema talaga ang Cotabato City voters (One-hundred percent of Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi are over. The ballot boxes were opened on time. The only problem was with the Cotabato voters),” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said.
He brushed aside incidents in this city, saying these were “not the big issues as (the Comelec) was able to address the situation promptly.”
Another plebiscite will be held on February 6 in Lanao del Norte, except Iligan City; the municipalities of Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pikit, and Pigkawayan in North Cotabato; and all other areas contiguous to any of the Bangsamoro core areas where the local government of such area asked for inclusion in the plebiscite; or at least 10 percent of the registered voters in a local government unit, by way of a petition, asked for inclusion in the process.
The total number of voters that will decide on the fate of BOL is 2.8 million.
Sumalipao bared that a three-hour delay in the opening of 24 precincts marred the election process in this city after 72 teachers refused to report for poll duties because they received threatening text messages from still unknown parties.
The 24 precincts covered six barangays with about 8,000 voters.
Sumalipao said PNP personnel were tapped to replace the 72 teachers and perform their poll duties.
He said safety issues “was the common reason” members of the plebiscite committee failed to report at the precincts.
Sumalipao said they reported the delay to the Comelec en banc, which will decide on the extension.
He he said voters should make sure their names are listed by 3 p.m. so they could be allowed to vote even after the scheduled closure of polling precincts.
“We are waiting for the guidelines. But if there are still voters by 3 p.m., we will allow them to vote even beyond that time,” he said.
Voters in Cotabato City have refused to be included in ARMM in two previous plebiscites, and are perceived to maintain that same stand in the BOL plebiscite, which will create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM) to replace ARMM.
Cotabato City has a total of 37 barangays and 374 clustered precincts with 113,751 registered voters.
Several voters were disappointed after they found out that their names were not on the voters’ list.
In an interview, voter Bai Malayha Abang from Rosary Heights 6 said she found her name outside the polling precinct, but when she got inside the plebiscite committee at the precinct, officials could not find her name on the copy of their list.
“Hindi ko po alam bakit wala ang pangalan ko (I don’t know why my name is missing),” she said. Abang, who showed her voters’ ID, said she was able to vote in the recent barangay elections and presidential elections.
Abang was accompanied by her partner Ahllan Mamadra, who like her was not able to see his name on the list of voters outside the polling precinct.
Mamadra, however, is a new voter. He showed a copy of the stub indicating his voters’ application was submitted to the Comelec.
Other voters also went to the Comelec office to request for a copy of a certification allowing them to vote in the plebiscite.
Alma Galanto, 75, and her sister Bebing from Mother Barangay Rosary Heights lined up outside Sero Elementary School as early as 6 a.m., but were dismayed not to find their names in the voters’ list at their assigned precinct.
Sumalipao said the list of voters was sent to them from Manila, and that it was already purged of double registrants.
“There were those multiple, double registrants who were taken out of the list. Kaya as of now, we can’t really say kung ano yung rason dun. In fact, may inabot ako dun mga apat ata and I sent them to the election officer to check the reason behind that.”
Sumalipao said only the election officers of the area can verify whether the voters in the city are, indeed, registered.
He said though that if the names of the voters can be found on the election day computerized voters’ list (EDCVL), the voters will be allowed to vote.
Jimenez further explained that voters’ IDs and stubs of voter’s application forms do not mean that holders will be allowed to vote.
“We (have not) released voters IDs anymore since 2012. Hindi requirement sa pagboto ang ID,” he said.
Meanwhile, a suspected flying voter was reportedly mauled at the Cotabato City Institute.
And it took Cotabato City Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi to intervene and keep the crowd from further hurting the boy.
According to Sayadi, the boy said he was sent to the polling place by a certain Ustdz Nasser Daud and was from Barangay Bagua Dos.
The mayor found identification cards from him showing that he was a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“(Flying voters are) all over the city. The Comelec should act on this,” she said.
But according to Jimenez, “it’s people who only call them flying voters, we don’t know for sure yet if they are really flying voters.”
Jimenez added that he “didn’t know if these are actual people who are not eligible to vote.”
Jimenez said the Comelec has filtered the list of voters to make sure only those who are eligible to vote today are on the list.
He said they still have to check why the 17-year-old boy was there.
He said “if there is really that issue, then the reason is that he was not caught up in the filter that was supposed to generate a list of only people who are allowed to vote only on this day.”
First time voter
In Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and supporters chanted “Alahu Akbar” as MILF Chair AL Hadj Murad walked towards the voting precinct at the Simuay Junction Elementary School to cast his vote.
Like many of the mujahideen, it was the first time for Murad to vote.
Surrounded by his security escorts, Murad went inside the room and took a short rest on a sofa beside Mayor Tucao Mastura.
As he stood in front of an election officer, Murad told the media: “First time kong bumoto.”
The election officer called out his real name “Ebrahim, Ahod Murd Balawag” and handed him his ballot.
Back at the sofa, reporters asked him how he was feeling. “Very excited, also very happy,” an obviously ecstatic MILF chief responded before filling our his ballot.
“We have arrived at this point when we are from the bullets to polls,” he added “, very historic.” While showing the indelible ink on his thumb, Murad further told the media: “This signifies the transformation from armed struggle to democratic process.”
The MILF chair said that he was hopeful that the BOL would be ratified to able to establish the Bangsamoro government. “We are very hopeful, we are optimistic that this BOL will be an instrument for peace.”
Marawi evacuees cast votes
In Marawi City, the plebiscite started without delay inside the multipurpose hall in Barangay Sagonsongan.
Even without proper facilities, Marawi evacuees trooped to vote at the polling center, writing their votes down even when there were no tables.
The local government of Marawi also provided free rides to voters to ferry them to their respective voting precincts. (With a report from Martin A. Sadongdong)