Bomb disposal experts managed to deactivate the booby trap found by voters near a polling site in Cotabato City.
John Unson
Tension in Cotabato City as BOL plebiscite kicks off
John Unson ( - January 21, 2019 - 11:50am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Violence preceded the conduct here Monday of the plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

Two men on a motorcycle threw a fragmentation grenade inside the residential yard here of Judge Angelito Rasalan of the Municipal Trial Court in nearby Upi town in Maguindanao on Sunday night, causing panic in the neighborhood.

Rasalan, a city resident who is against ratification of the BOL, is brother of Anecito Rasalan, secretary of Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi. Guiani-Sayadi is vocal in her opposition to BOL.

PNP: Blast likely not related to plebiscite

But the police are looking into personal motives in the blast.

In a press briefing Monday morning, Police Director General Oscar Albayalde said that "seemingly, it was about something personal with the judge."

He said investigators believe someone may be trying to intimidate the judge.

"It has nothing to do with the ongoing plebiscite there," Albayalde said, noting the two grenades were thrown into the judge's compound and not outside, where it would have caused more panic.

Albayalde said he sees no need to deploy more police officers in response to the blast, saying there are more than 20,000 police and military officials to secure polling. "I think we have enough forces there," he said, adding most officers will be in the field.

RELATED: PNP on guard but sees peaceful BOL plebiscite

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

Cotabato City is the present administrative seat of the now 29-year-old ARMM, which also as a regional charter, Republic Act 9054, also ratified via a plebiscite.

Gun attack on house of BTC member

The grenade incident that rocked the city Sunday night preceded a gun attack on the house of lawyer Omar Sema, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the BOL.

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

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

No one was hurt in the shooting incident.

Police bomb disposal experts also deactivated on Monday morning a booby trap made up of a fragmentation grenade found along a road leading to the campus here of the Rojas Elemetary School, which has polling centers.

The school campus was opened to voters after ordnance disposal experts neutralized the bomb.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 16, 2019 - 6:01pm

The last Plebiscite Committee leaves the distribution center in Buluan, Maguindanao for Tamontaka in Cotabato City a little past 6 a.m. on Monday as the first day of the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law starts on Monday, January 21.

Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez said over the weekend that 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.

A second plebiscite day is set for February 6 for areas in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte.

October 16, 2019 - 6:01pm

More than 500 permanent employees of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will be "phased out" starting November as part of the transition to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mind

"Ang first batch, ang last day of service nila would be October 31st, second batch is November 30th, and the third and last batch is on December 31st," BARMM Attorney General Sha Elijah Alba says in a release.

Around 6,000 personnel of the ARMM will be "phased out" before the end of the year. Only those in the sectors of education, health, and social services are exempted in the phasing out.

Under Article XVI Section 10 of the Bangsamoro Organic Law affected personnel who opt to retire or be separated shall be entitled to separation benefits.

October 14, 2019 - 1:23pm

Tension between a local terror group and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has escalated after a video showing a terrorist executing an MILF member wounded in a clash spread on Sundat.

The mobile phone footage showed how a member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, operating in the fashion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, repeatedly shot in the head an MILF fighter hurt in an encounter last week in Shariff Saidona Mustapha town in Maguindanao.

Seven MILF members were killed in last week’s incident in Shariff Saidona Mustapha.

The gunfight erupted when BIFF gunmen attacked a group of MILF members in a riverside farming enclave in an isolated barangay in the municipality, sparking an hour-long running gunfight that dislocated hundreds of villagers.

There is a deep-seated animosity between one of three factions in the BIFF, the one led by radical cleric Abu Toraife, and the MILF due to its overt support to efforts of the police and the military to neutralize Toraife and his followers. -- The STAR/John Unson

October 10, 2019 - 2:38pm

Officials in Basilan on Wednesday report their accomplishments in the past 100 days but also say that rebuilding the province from armed conflicts will take a long time.

The newcomers Isabela City Mayor Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman and Vice Mayor Kifli Salliman together established during the period via the Sanguniang Panglunsod three outfits — the Culture and Arts Board (Ordinance 19-533), the City Information Office (Ordinance 19-534), and the City Legal Office (Ordinance 19-535) — to boost the city government’s public service thrusts.

The SP, chaired by the first-termer Salliman, also passed last month the city’s Freedom of Information Ordinance, more known as Isabela City’s Ordinance 19-536, the first ever in Southern Philippines.

The FOI bill is meant to ensure transparency and accountability in the city government’s handling of fiscal resources and its implementation of local and state-funded socio-economic, security and infrastructure programs.  — The STAR/John Unson

October 9, 2019 - 2:26pm

Law enforcement agents arrest five people, among them the wife of a wanted drug dealer, and dismantle their shabu distribution hub in an operationon Wednesday.

Lanie Datumanong Ali of Barangay Kabuntalan in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao is now in the custody of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Her husband, Banoh, the target of the joint police-PDEA operation, managed to escape bringing with him a blue bag that neighbors said contained pistols and fragmentation grenades.

Juvenal Azurin, director of PDEA-BARMM, said Wednesday they immediately dismantled the couple’s drug den, located in Barangay Kabuntalan.

Azurin said agents confiscated from the spouse of Banoh P170,000 worth of shabu and two fragmentation grenades.

Besides Ali, four men, whose exact identities are still being validated, were also caught sniffing shabu together in the drug den that Banoh operated.

“The wife of Banoh shall be prosecuted separately for violation of Republic Act 9165 and illegal possession of explosives,” Azurin said.

The four men now clamped down in the detention facility of PDEA-BARMM in Cotabato City shall also be charged accordingly, according to Azurin.

RA 9165, also known as the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, outlawed sale and possession of narcotics, such as shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) and marijuana and other regulated substances. -- The STAR/John Unson

October 7, 2019 - 12:02pm

Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. says the national government recognizes the gallantry of seven members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who were killed in a clash with Islamic State-linked terrorist group in Maguindanao province over the weekend.

"For us, they are heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice so that their people can live in peace," Galvez says in a statement from his office.

"In solidarity with the leadership of the MILF, the government will assist in every way possible the families of these slain MILF fighters. We will exert all efforts to make sure that justice will be served to the perpetrators of this dastardly act."

Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu (Maguindanao), a former provincial governor, is meanwhile calling for a de-escalation of tension in the area as the fighting has forced hundreds from Barangay Dasawao in Shariff Saidona town have fled the fighting.

"I am calling on the BIFF to consider the continuing appeals by different sectors for its forces to stand down, to reintegrate into mainstream communities and support the peace process between the government and the MILF," Mangudadatu says Monday in comments addressed to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the group believed behind the attack.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity referred to the group as the "Turaype-Dawla group." —with The STAR/John Unson

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