Over 1 million seen to vote in BOL plebiscite
Military tanks are on standby in Cotabato City to ensure a peaceful and orderly conduct of the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law today.
John Unson

Over 1 million seen to vote in BOL plebiscite

Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Over a million voters are expected to troop to various polling precincts to participate in today’s plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez over the weekend said as high as 75 percent of the more than two million voters from Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), as well as the cities of Isabela in Basilan and Cotabato in Maguindanao are expected to go out and cast their votes.

“We expect that there would be high voter turnout... somewhere upward at 75 percent,” Jimenez said, noting the ARMM has a high turnout rate in election history.

The Comelec said 7,141 clustered precincts in 1,228 voting centers are set to open at 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. to accommodate 2,165,316 registered voters. 

Each clustered precinct would be manned by three members of the plebiscite committee.

Jimenez said the voters are required to write ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘oo’ or ‘hindi’, or any of the dialects equivalent to yes or no in the blank after the question/s, on the ballot.

Jimenez said voters should refrain from putting any distinctive marks on any part of the ballots.

According to the Comelec, voters will write answers to questions that vary depending on their respective areas.

Voters from ARMM areas, except in Basilan, will be asked, “Are you in favor of the approval of Republic Act No. 11054 otherwise known as the Organic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao?”

Aside from the first question, a second will be asked voters in Basilan: Are you in favor of the inclusion of Isabela City in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region?

The second question to voters in Cotabato City is,  “Are you in favor of the inclusion of Cotabato City in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region?”

The plebiscite questions will be written in Filipino, while those areas where Arabic is of general use shall also have Arabic translation in addition to Filipino.

After the closing of poll precincts, counting of votes will immediately follow.

“The Comelec en banc will sit as the plebiscite national board of canvassers as canvassing will be done in Manila and they will be the one proclaiming the results,” Jimenez said.

Selling, buying, offering and taking intoxicating liquor is prohibited during the plebiscite.

Campaigning for or against the BOL within the polling place and its vicinity is also disallowed as well as giving, accepting free transportation, food, drinks, or other things of value.

The Comelec said prohibited acts are considered an election offense, which carries the penalty of one to six years imprisonment, removal of right to vote, and disqualification to hold public office.

The plebiscite today would be the first covering the ARMM and the cities of Isabela and Cotabato followed by a second plebiscite on Feb. 6, which will focus on the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato.

Today’s plebiscite is the ratification of the BOL while the Feb. 6 plebiscite will cover the areas that would be included in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that will replace the ARMM.

Tight security

The government, on the other hand, implemented tighter security measures for today’s plebiscite.

Some 10,000 personnel will man the various polling precincts while battalions from the elite police Special Action Force (SAF) and regional mobile police forces are on standby in the event of an emergency.

Police officers will also serve as board of election inspectors under the supervision of the Comelec.

The military, on the other hand,  tapped the assistance of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other groups to secure the plebiscite.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said the government is ready to face the “peace spoilers” who might sabotage the plebiscite.

“All hands are now on deck to ensure the peaceful and orderly conduct of the plebiscite,” Año said.

A combined force of 20,384 policemen and troops were deployed in areas under the ARMM, Isabela City and Cotabato City where people will cast their votes.

Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said troops have been deployed in strategic spots in Cotabato City and in nearby Maguindanao province.

Sobejana said the national highways connecting the southern and northern parts of Maguindanao to Cotabato City were also secured against possible terror attacks.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), whose area of operation covers Central and Western Mindanao where the ARMM’s five provinces and two cities are located, has mobilized 10,400 troops to secure and ensure the safe conduct of the plebiscite.

The military said they have sufficient troops who have been placed on standby as augmentation force.

Hoping for the best

Security officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed confidence that today’s plebiscite will be peaceful and orderly.

With security preparations now in place in partnership with the Philippine National Police (PNP), Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expects no disruptions in the electoral exercise.

Lorenzana said the AFP and the PNP are working overtime to monitor the movements of known armed groups that might disrupt the plebiscite. 

The Daulah Islamiyah, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf are among the armed groups opposed to holding the plebiscite to ratify the BOL.

Except for a few pockets of resistance, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said all is set for the plebiscite.

The 12,000-strong MILF will form joint peace and security teams together with the AFP and the PNP which Ebrahim said will ensure that no untoward incidents happen.

Ebrahim said they have not monitored big threats from other groups that might disrupt the plebiscite.

“There would be some resistance and of course this might cause tension, but all is ready to go,”

Ebrahim said in an interview over dzBB.

According to Ebrahim, they are in talks with some from the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf.

He revealed that two of the three sub-groups of the BIFF have agreed to support the BOL once it is ratified.

Ebrahim said there are also members of the Abu Sayyaf ready to support a new Bangsamoro government.

It is for this reason that the MILF is pushing for amnesty, not only for its members but those from other rebel groups, including the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf.

Ebrahim, however, clarified the amnesty grant is for rebellion, not for common crimes such as murder. – With Emmanuel Tupas, John Unson, Michael Punongbayan, Lino dela Cruz

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