A woman casts her vote during the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law in Maguindanao yesterday.
Comelec: 'Bangsamoro Organic Law voting successful'
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Despite delays in the opening of polling precincts in Cotabato City, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the police have declared “successful” and generally peaceful the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in Mindanao yesterday.

“Overall, the BOL plebiscite is successful. We just have to wait for the results,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said in a phone interview.

According to Jimenez, polling precincts opened “100 percent” in all areas. However, 24 of the 374 polling precincts in Cotabato opened four hours late because teachers doing election duty did not show up.

The teachers said they received “threatening messages” so they opted not to report for election duty.

Jimenez said the teachers were replaced, but this still caused delays in the proceedings, affecting around 8,000 voters.

As of last night, the Comelec had not decided if the voting in affected precincts would be extended.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Oscar Albayalde declared that the plebiscite for the BOL was generally peaceful despite some untoward incidents, including the bombing at the compound of a judge in Cotabato City last Sunday night, the eve of the polls.

“The plebiscite is foreseen to be peaceful because a majority of the electorate is in favor of the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” Albayalde said at a news briefing at Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Jimenez said that peace and order in the plebiscite area is “normal.”

“I mean there is no specific fear outside of elections. You would see tension within the polling precinct among the supporters. But outside, there was hardly any,” he added.

BOL seeks to create an autonomous Bangsamoro region which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim MIndanao (ARMM).

If the plebiscite yields positive results, the Comelec is set to hold the second leg of the plebiscite in 28 barangays in North Cotabato that is not covered by ARMM but contiguous to the BOL territories.

Albayalde said a grenade exploded at the residence of Judge Angelito Rasalan of the Upi municipal trial court in Maguindanao on Sunday night.

Rasalan is an anti-BOL advocate and brother of Anecito Rasalan, secretary of Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi who is also campaigning against the ratification of the BOL.

Two men on board a motorcycle hurled a fragmentation grenade at the compound of the judge in Barangay Rosary Heights in Cotabato City at around 10 p.m.

Nobody was hurt in the grenade attack that only damaged a portion of Rasalan’s compound.

Once ratified, the BOL, or Republic Act 11054, shall pave the way for the replacement of the ARMM with a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Cotabato City is the current administrative seat of the 29-year-old ARMM, created through Republic Act 9054 also ratified via a plebiscite.

Albayalde said the police are investigating if the bombing is connected to personal grudges against Rasalan.

“Something personal… It has nothing to do with the ongoing plebiscite,” he said.

Albayalde said they are not discounting the possibility that whoever is responsible could be a member of a local terrorist group.

However, the 53-year-old Rasalan said the attack definitely is connected to the BOL since he is a supporter of the group that opposes the BOL and the inclusion of Cotabato City to BARMM.

“Vocal ako. Marami na nagsabi sa akin na magmenor ako,” he said in a television interview, referring to advice for him to slow down.

Despite the incident, Albayalde does not see the need to deploy additional police units to augment the over 20,000 personnel from the police and military already securing the plebiscite.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) welcomed yesterday the conduct of the BOL plebiscite.

“Not only does this exercise give way to the people’s right to political participation but, more importantly, asserts the right of Moros and non-Moros alike to self-determination,” Jacqueline de Guia, CHR spokesperson, said in a statement issued yesterday.

“CHR shall continuously stand for measures that will allow the people to chart their futures through their choice of political structure within the bounds of our laws and national sovereignty. Through this process, it is our shared hope that we can finally correct the injustices committed against our Moro sisters and brothers and find a balance in advancing the rights and welfare of the peoples of Mindanao,” she added.

No disruption

Chief Supt. Graciano Mijares, director of the ARMM police, said there was no report of any disruption in the casting of ballots.

Some 85 persons were arrested and 85 firearms were confiscated in the ARMM and some parts of Central, Western and Northern Mindanao since the campaign period for the BOL started on Dec. 7, 2018. Authorities also seized 12 grenades, three knives and at least 589 bullets as of yesterday.

The PNP has conducted 120,216 checkpoints throughout the ARMM and other parts of Mindanao.

Chief Supt. Eliseo Rasco, director of Police Regional Office 12, said that despite the bombing of the judge’s residence in Cotabato City on Sunday, the situation in the city during the plebiscite was generally peaceful.

The bombing preceded the gun attack at the house of lawyer Omar Sema, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the BOL.

Sema is a son of former Cotabato City mayor Muslimin Sema, who belongs to one of two factions in the Moro National Liberation Front and a supporter of the BOL.

Gunmen on motorcycles reportedly parked near the house of the younger Sema and opened fire.

No one was hurt in the incident.

Members of the police bomb disposal unit also defused yesterday morning a fragmentation grenade found along a road leading to the Rojas Elementary School in Cotabato City where several polling precincts were located.

The polling precincts were opened to voters after the bomb disposal team cleared the area.

Comelec officials reported that the plebiscite was marred by some untoward incidents including ballot snatching and vote buying in Basilan, Sulu and Taw-Tawi (BaSulTa).

Comelec officials said that despite the complaints, 100 percent of the precincts were opened in the three provinces.

“We are pleased to announce for Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi we have been able to open the polls at 100 percent as of 8 o’clock this morning,” said Frances Agundadao-Arabe, Comelec special monitoring head for BaSulTa areas.

But earlier in the day, a pregnant Mary Jane Maalao, 28, complained that her completed ballot was seized by an unidentified man right inside the precinct in Sumagdang Elementary School in Barangay Sumagdang, Isabela City, Basilan.

She said the suspect took her ballot and tore it outside the precinct and walked away.

“I don’t really know why he took and tore my ballot. Perhaps he saw I voted for ‘No’,” Maalao said.

Isabela City police chief Supt. William Gadayan immediately deployed policemen in the area to track down the suspect.

He said the situation remained manageable and peaceful.

Arabe said Maalao could still cast her vote since it was not her fault that somebody tore her ballot.

The Comelec official said the case will be noted in the minutes of the plebiscite committee of the affected precinct. Maalao would be provided new ballot so she could vote again.

Gadayan said police quick reaction team was deployed and conducted simultaneous checkpoint as the polling centers opened to control the suspicious people reportedly engaging in vote buying.

The alleged vote buying incidents were monitored in the areas of Barangays Menzi, Aguada and Sumagdang, according to Gadayan.

Gadayan said some residents confirmed reports that several persons were paying P200 to P500 so voters would vote “No” for BOL.

Residents of Isabela City, which is not part of the ARMM, had voted against its inclusion in the autonomous Moro region in two previous plebiscites.

A majority of residents of Lamitan City in Basilan, however, support the BOL.

Sulu residents led by former governor Abdusakur Tan Sr. also opposed the BOL and had campaigned for the No vote.

The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) hoped for the success of the ratification of the BOL that would strengthen autonomy and lay the foundation for just peace and inclusive development to prevent violent extremism in Mindanao.

PCID president Amina Rasul said the BOL provides fiscal autonomy, automatic appropriation of the block grant, funds for the rehabilitation and development of conflict-ridden areas, a judiciary based on Sharia laws, with safeguards ensuring that human rights will be protected and promoted.

She said the vote for the BOL represents the hopes and dreams for a better future for Filipino children. – With Emmanuel Tupas, Rainier Allan Ronda, Roel Pareño, John Unson

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