Comelec expects 2.8 million voters to cast ballots in Bangsamoro plebiscite

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Director James Jimenez, spokesman of Commission on Elections (Photo by Alysa Salen) 

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) expects about 2.8 million people will participate in the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) which will held on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6

Comelec Director James Jimenez, the poll body’s spokesman, said during a radio interview in Deretsuhan sa Graphic, the Philippines Graphic’s weekly radio program, that poll officials were expecting a “high turnout” for the plebiscite. He estimated that around 75% of the registered voters living in the areas covered under the plebiscite will cast their votes.

According to reports, the number included more than 150,000 who fought for or were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), one of the major secessionist groups in Mindanao.

The Comelec spokesman explained that the first day (Jan. 21) of the plebiscite will take place in the areas under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Cotabato City and Isabela City.

Based on a memorandum released by the Comelec ARMM office in Cotabato City, the Regional Plebiscite Board of Canvassers will convene at 6 p.m. at the Regional Legislative Assembly Session Hall to “canvass the certificates of canvas submitted to it.”

“The Regional Plebiscite Board of Canvassers shall meet continuously from day to day until the canvass is completed and may adjourn only for the purpose of waiting for the other certificates of canvass,” wrote Atty. Ray F. Sumalipao, head of the Regional Plebiscite Board of Canvassers, wrote in the said memorandum.

The second day, Feb. 6, will be for voters in Lanao del Norte (except Isabela City), North Cotabato and the other 20 towns whose petitions to join the BOL plebiscite the Comelec had approved previously.

Dir. Jimenez said during the radio interview with Deretsuhan sa Graphic that the plebiscite will be a manual process.

“Voters will cast paper ballots,” he said, adding that voting machines will not be used during entire BOL plebiscite.

The poll body spokesman said that voters will only be allowed to answer “yes” or “no” on the ballot.

“Checks and X marks will not be allowed,” he said.

The Comelec official explained that voters registered in the cities of Isabela and Cotabato will have to answer either “yes” or “no” on whether they want to be included in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

According to other reports, voters registered in Basilan will be asked to answer two questions. The first question will ask them whether they agree with the inclusion of Isabela City in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. The second question will ask them to ratify the Bangsamoro

Those voters registered in the ARMM will only be asked to ratify the BOL.

If the BOL is ratified, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Under the BOL, the BAR will comprise the ARMM provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, six towns in Lanao del Norte, dozens of villages in North Cotabato, Cotabato City, and Isabela City.

The ARMM was designed to implement the peace deal the government forged with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). However, a faction from the MNLF organized the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to continue to fight for secession.

The MILF rejoined the peace talks after a government offensive launched by the Estrada administration captured the MILF’s bases, training camps and headquarters.

The Arroyo administration attempted to sign a new peace deal with the MILF but the Supreme Court ruled that the deal, known as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, was unconstitutional.

Under the Aquino administration, the MILF continued negotiations which culminated with an agreement replacing the ARMM. However, MNLF founder Nur Misuari disagreed with this development. The row led to a flare up of fighting between the Misuari faction of the MNLF and the government in Zamboanga City in 2013. Government forces defeated the Misuari faction’s short-lived uprising.

However, the disagreement between the MNLF and the MILF was a critical factor which prevented the Aquino administration from completing its attempt to pass a law replacing the ARMM.

Under the Duterte administration, new talks that included the interests of the MNLF began. The Duterte administration’s effort convinced the MNLF to support the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, This development cemented the BOL’s place as part of the peace process, which was initiated by the MNLF in the 1970’s. G




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