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: February 18, 2019 - 7:51am

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.

February 18, 2019 - 7:51am

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have prepared socio-economic packages for combatants who will be decommissioned following the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law last month, a senior deputy peace adviser says.

Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Nabil Tan says ratification will lead to the implementation of the normalization track of the GPH-MILF peace agreement, where 30 percent of all MILF combatants and firearms will be decommissioned.

Tan says the first batch of MILF fighters will turnover an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 firearms as part of the decommissioning process that will be overseen by a Turkey-led International Decommissioning Body.

February 15, 2019 - 8:05am

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process welcomes the inclusion of 63 barangays of North Cotabato in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, calling it "another milestone in the Mindanao peace process."

In a statement, peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. says the February 6 plebiscite is an example for elections that should be emulated across the country. "The entire community of the province showed us how to assert our rights peacefully."

He adds: "North Cotabato is a highly diverse province and yet they showed us how people in a multicultural community can coexist harmoniously and act in unity."

February 11, 2019 - 9:39am

Any lists of supposed members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority are unofficial and fake, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process says.

"To date, OPAPP has transmitted the list of nominees to the Office of the President for review," the office says, adding only President Rodrigo Duterte, who will appoint the members of the BTA, can release an official list.

"OPAPP advises the public to be prudent and judicious about what they see and share on social media."

February 7, 2019 - 8:56am

The Plebiscite Provincial Board of Canvassers is Lanao del Norte is gathering Certificates of Canvass for the plebiscite held on Wednesday.

February 6, 2019 - 8:32am

Residents of some villages in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato participate in a plebiscite for inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Wednesday, February 6.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Cotabato City had voted to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law in a plebiscite last month.

There were reports of explosions in Lala and Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte on Tuesday afternoon, but authorities could not say whether these were related to the scheduled plebiscite.

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