A woman casts her vote at a polling site in Pikit, North Cotabato yesterday during the second round of the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
John Unson
Comelec: 2nd Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite successful
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Despite the bombings in Lanao del Norte, the second leg of the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was successful, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared yesterday. 

James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, said they are looking at a voter turnout of 75 percent.

“So far, it’s showing up to be very successful elections. Of course, if something happens at the very last minute, that very last minute event is what’s going to define the whole exercise. But with caution in mind, yes it is successful so far,” he said in an interview.

Jimenez said they could not determine if the bombings were election-related, but noted that the timing was “ridiculous” as these happened the day before the plebiscite.

The plebiscite covered the entire province of Lanao del Norte except for Iligan city and 67 barangays in seven towns of North Cotabato. 

Jimenez noted that all the polling precincts in the two provinces were “open and functioning” at 8:30 a.m.   

He added that distribution of election paraphernalia proceeded smoothly, with “no problems” about teachers, unlike the Jan. 21 plebiscite in Cotabato city, where the voting was delayed because teachers backed out on plebiscite day. 

Voting proceeded unhampered despite the heavy rains in some parts of Lanao del Norte.

Jimenez maintained that while there were persistent rumors of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters entering the provinces, no untoward incidents were reported.

“We are trying to verify these rumors but in the meantime, the local government units are on alert and the military and police are taking steps to secure the voting,” he added. 

The generally peaceful conduct of the second plebiscite for the BOL in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato provinces was confirmed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday.

PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde made the statement despite the three explosions which hit three towns in Lanao del Norte.

“Everything is peaceful,” he said in a television interview over GMA News.

Albayalde personally supervised the conduct of security measures in the two provinces to ensure that no untoward incidents would occur when the voters went to the polling precincts.

He said the explosions could be the handiwork of people who wanted to sow fear among the public.

A total of 7,312 police personnel secured 4,479 polling precincts in the two provinces.

Meanwhile, two policemen were arrested in Iligan city for possession of firearms without securing proper certificates for a gun ban exemption from the Comelec and clearance to provide security to a politician.

They are Police Officers 1 Johaimen Mohamad, and Rasid Lambay, both members of the Pantar municipal police station in Lanao del Norte.

The two were caught at a security checkpoint in Barangay Tomas L. Cabili at around 5 p.m.

Seized from the police officers were one M16 rifle, an MP5 rifle, one 9mm pistol and a .45 caliber pistol.

Acts of cowardice

Malacañang condemned yesterday the explosions on the eve of yesterday’s plebiscite on the BOL in Lanao del Norte.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said no amount of bombing or terrorist act scared, intimidated or threatened the voters from participating in the plebiscite. 

Panelo also assured the electorate that the Armed Forces of the Philippines provided safeguards to ensure the conduct of peaceful polls.

“The road to lasting peace in that region is not without obstacles strewn by those who foment disunity and who purvey the status quo. We shall not be waylaid by the twin forces of obstruction and destruction,” Panelo said.

Malacañang also described as acts of cowardice on the part of the groups behind the blasts, saying they resist change and want to perpetuate the climate of fear, hopelessness and poverty among the Bangsamoro people and the Christian inhabitants in Mindanao. 

According to Panelo, the Duterte administration continues to have faith in the vibrant democracy, knowing that the peace-loving residents of Lanao del Norte and the municipalities of Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pikit, Pigkawayan and Tulunan, all in the province of North Cotabato, courageously exercised their right of suffrage in favor of the ratification of Republic Act 11054.

‘No cause for fear’

Lanao del Norte provincial election officer Joseph Hamilton Cuevas assured voters that security forces were deployed in various areas to ensure that the plebiscite would be peaceful.

“No need to be afraid,” Cuevas said in a text message yesterday. “The explosions (were) meant to scare the people, not to injure or kill.”

Cuevas added that since martial law is being enforced in Mindanao, the military and police check the movement of vehicles and thwart any untoward incidents.

“(There will be) more visibility in the voting centers,” he said.

Chief Insp. Salman Saad, spokesman for the provincial police, earlier said more than 2,000 law enforcers were deployed in polling centers and checkpoints in the province. 

“We also have quick reaction teams on standby,” Saad said, adding that bomb-sniffing dogs and explosive and ordnance disposal teams were waiting for orders.

The first blast occurred in the business district of Lala at around 4:30 p.m. Seconds later, another explosion was reported in Kauswagan, 59.8 kilometers away.

Late Monday night, another explosion was heard near the Mindanao State University high school in Sultan Naga Dimaporo.

“We (are still trying) to find out if (the blasts) were coordinated or related to the plebiscite,” Saad said.

For his part, regional police spokesman Supt. Surki Sereñas said the reports claiming that improvised explosive devices were used in the bombings did not come from his office.

“We appeal for calm and sobriety. This misinformation is the handiwork of those who want to sow fear and panic among the people of Lanao del Norte and derail the conduct of a peaceful and orderly plebiscite,” Sereñas said.

The plebiscite for the inclusion of several barangays in seven North Cotabato towns into the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was generally peaceful, officials also said.

Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said his office has not received any report of untoward incident in polling sites from the first hour of the plebiscite until 3 p.m. yesterday.

But a resident of Barangay Dunguan in Aleosan was arrested for carrying an unlicensed pistol while in the premises of a polling site, according to the police.

The suspect, Mohammad Kutok, 32, was booked for possession of an unlicensed firearm and not for any hostile act detrimental to the polling activity.

Kutok is a member of the MILF, the police added.

Voter turnout

Despite Monday’s bombings, the voting for the BOL plebiscite in Lanao del Norte started as scheduled.

Meanwhile, the municipal police said personnel from the Explosives and Ordnance Division are still conducting laboratory tests on the debris found at the site.

Elsewhere in Lanao del Norte, authorities reported satisfactory voter turnout even as some residents in the capital town of Tubod allegedly fled to nearby Ozamiz city.

The police in Linamon town, adjacent to Kauswagan, imposed a lockdown. Iligan city authorities are also on high alert.

While no casualty was reported in the bombings, Brig. Gen. Alex Aduca of the Philippine Army’s  2nd Mechanized Brigade said the incidents were meant to embarrass the military.

But in a televised interview yesterday, Lanao del Norte Gov. Imelda Dimaporo blamed the MILF for the incidents.

The governor noted that Kauswagan was attacked by the MILF in 2001, 2004 and 2008, causing death and destruction to the mostly Christian settlers of the town. – With Emmanuel Tupas, Christina Mendez, Gerry Lee Gorit, Lino dela Cruz, John Unson, Helen Flores, Roel Pareño

BANGSAMORO ORGANIC LAW COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS
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