The Commission on Elections convenes as the National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers at the poll body’s main office in Manila yesterday. The session was adjourned for lack of certificates of canvass.
Edd Gumban
Comelec: Bangsamoro Organic Law vote canvass to take a week
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will finish canvassing the ballots of the plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in a week.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas yesterday said the poll body, sitting as the National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (NPBOC), will be able to complete the canvassing no later than Jan. 26. 

“Our target is one week because it depends on the travel (time) of the ballot boxes... What we will be doing is to canvass whatever election returns come in,” he said.

The NPBOC opened the canvassing yesterday, but it immediately adjourned as the board has yet to receive any election results from the field.

Officials said the canvassing will resume today.

Comelec said it printed 2.1 million ballots for the plebiscite. If the measure is approved, a second referendum on Feb. 6 will ask residents of Lanao del Norte province and seven towns in North Cotabato province with a sizeable Muslim population to decide whether they want to join the new region.

Abas has described Monday’s plebiscite as credible although there were reports of seven incidents of “grenade throwing and commotion” in Cotabato City.

In his opening speech, Abas gave assurance the Comelec is committed to proclaim the will of the people in the most transparent and inclusive manner.

“The conduct of the… plebiscite is a sign of a vibrant democracy in the country. It’s a testimony of strong institutions and maturity of its citizens... For the commission, every ballot is sacred no matter our personal views and threats to our physical security,” he said.

Abas said in last Monday’s plebiscite, the “sovereign will is expressed through the ballot and not through the bullet” and Comelec is constitutionally mandated to protect the will of the electorate.

“There is no better equalizer than the casting of one’s vote. The vote of a millionaire as against a pauper, a man and a woman, the young and the senior, is equal to the other.”

Initial reports from the regional Comelec office showed the results on the provincial level, except for the Lanao del Sur, were already completed as of yesterday.

Comelec Director Teofisto Elnas Jr., deputy head of the Bangsamoro Plebiscite for Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa) area, said 45 out of 118 municipalities, which represent 45.74 percent of the total number, submitted their official results as of 9 a.m.

On the other hand, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the poll body will look into reports of the Legal Network for Free Elections (Lente) that some barangay officials were seen inside polling places despite the prohibition.

Jimenez said they have directed their election officers to make sure that barangay officials are not inside polling precincts, unless they are going to vote. 

Lente executive director Rona Caritos claimed seeing some barangay officials in the polling precincts in Bubung, Buaya-buaya, Cotabato Chinese Institute, Cotabato City National High School-Tamontaka, Cotabato City Central Pilot School, Sero Elementary School, all in Cotabato City.

Caritos claimed the Bangsamoro Free Election Movement also observed similar incidents in other areas. 

Jimenez said he saw barangay officials loitering inside two polling places in Cotabato City. He reported this to the commission.

“As observers, our role is limited because we were there to observe. I could not confront them because they might question my authority and I have no answer for that,” he said.

Jimenez said the presence of barangay officials in polling precincts is an election offense.

Praises

Except for some other issues, officials said the plebiscite was generally peaceful and orderly, which Interior Secretary Eduardo Año attributed to the presence of state security forces.

“Despite a few isolated incidents, the first BOL plebiscite on Monday was generally peaceful. Kudos to the police and the military for safeguarding our Filipino voters as they exercised their right to suffrage and for guarding the poll centers to ensure the peaceful conduct of the exercise,” he said.

A total of 6,698 policemen were deployed for the first plebiscite covering the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Isabela City and Cotabato City.

Año also praised 72 police officers who served as board of election inspectors after the assigned teachers failed to show up because of security threats.

Despite some incidents which include a skirmish after an alleged “flying voter” was caught, the overall situation in the areas where voting was held was peaceful.

Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, attributed the positive outcome of the political exercise to the close coordination and synchronized efforts between the security forces, the Comelec and concerned stakeholders.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said the military will be reviewing the security measures implemented during last Monday’s plebiscite and put them to better use on the second plebiscite on Feb. 6.

Presidential adviser on the peace process Carlito Galvez Jr. said the plebiscite showed the “historic democratic exercise works” and casualty count was zero.

The Church-based poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) also hailed the conduct of the plebiscite. 

One of the highlights was when Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim went to the Simuay Junction Central Elementary School in Darapanan to cast his vote. 

“The atmosphere was festive. It was a historic moment as it is chair Murad Ebrahim’s first time to vote in his entire life,” PPCRV executive director Maribel Buenaobra said.  

The PPCRV also noticed an early queue at the polling precincts.

But the plebiscite was not perfect since volunteers were able to record some incidents and these would be submitted to the Comelec, Buenaobra said.

Muhaquer Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the MILF, said they are thankful to the non-Muslim leaders in Lamitan City and in Upi town in Maguindanao where residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of the BOL.

Initial reports from the local Comelec and local governments of Lamitan City and Upi showed there was more than 90 percent turnout in both areas.

A total of 26,986 residents in Lamitan City voted for the BOL’s ratification while only 5,083 others wrote “no” on the plebiscite ballots.

Upi town Mayor Ramon Piang said 23,247 residents voted “yes” for BOL while only 3,288 voted against.

“We are thankful to the Christian political leaders who favored the ratification of the BOL,” Iqbal told a press briefing in Cotabato City yesterday.

“It feels so good to realize how these respectable Christian communities kept their promises,” he said.

At the same press briefing, Maguindanao Rep. Sandra Sema allayed insinuations by dissenting groups that non-Muslims would be persecuted under an MILF-led BARMM.

Sema said BARMM will operate under the Constitution and cannot impose regulations that are against any of its provisions.

For his part, ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman appealed for unity amid the political and religious divisiveness during the plebiscite.

Isabela City Vice Mayor Cherrylyn Santos-Akbar, who fought not to include the city in the Bangsamoro region, also appealed for unity among her constituents and the people of Basilan.

“We respected those who voted yes and we respect as well those who voted no because I know we have the same aspiration, we want peace and development,” Akbar said.

Opportunities

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the creation of the Bangsamoro region under the BOL would open up high growth opportunities for the region through increased investments and infrastructure.

“Given that the BOL provides a lot of opportunities to increase the budget for (BARMM), we expect to see more programs and infrastructure projects in the region,” he said.

An estimated P70 billion for the fiscal year 2019 alone would be provided by the national government as assistance to the region.

This does not include compensation for the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, benefits and entitlements of affected ARMM regional government employees, disposition of personnel and assets, initial funding to carry out requirements of the transition and additional development programs and projects subsidized by the national government.

Pernia said planned major infrastructure projects in the region amount to P22.15 billion for fiscal year 2019 alone and P40.85 billion for 2017-2022, based on the Public Investment Program, as of September 2018.

A representative of the Bangsamoro government would also sit as a member of the National Economic and Development Authority Board, Pernia said. – With  John Unson, Roel Pareño, Evelyn Macairan, Emmanuel Tupas, Jose Rodel Clapano, Czeriza Valencia

BANGSAMORO ORGANIC LAW COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS
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