By Gillian M. Cortez and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, January 20 2019; Business World


Image Credit to Business World

THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) warned of the possibility of violence as one of its leading concerns in today’s plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) after a bombing incident occurred recently in Cotabato.

“The biggest concern is that there could be violence that could be happening,” Comelec Spokesperson James B. Jimenez said in a phone interview.

He added: “As you know we recently placed Cotabato under political control mainly because a bomb went off there (on New Year’s Eve) and people have been connecting that incident to the partisan positions in the Bangsamoro plebiscite. So the biggest concern really is that kind of violence could continue until the plebiscite day.”

An election-campaign area is placed under Comelec control when it is found to be high risk because of intense political activity that could lead to violence.

Around 20,000 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) were deployed for the Monday’s plebiscite covering the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Isabela City in Basilan, and Cotabato City, which all have a combined total of 2.1 million registered voters.

Voters in the core area, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), make up the majority at 1,980,441.

Residents of the cities of Cotabato and Isabela will decide not just on the BOL’s ratification, but whether or not they will be part of the new Bangsamoro ARMM (BARMM) that will be formed under the law.

Another plebiscite scheduled Feb. 6, on the other hand, involves areas contiguous to the existing ARMM, including six municipalities in Lanao del Sur; 39 barangays in the towns of Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan, and Pikit (11) that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; and 28 local government units in Cotabato province whose petitions for inclusion were approved by the Comelec.

Comelec said canvassing will be done at its Intramuros headquarters.

During a livestreamed pre-plebiscite media forum held at Notre Dame University in Cotabato City on Sunday, Mr. Jimenez said that since the counting and canvassing of votes are manual, results of the plebiscite will be disclosed a few days yet after Monday.

“The expectation is that we will finish all these processes in four days. We expect the results to be announced in four days,” he told reporters there.

“If the result (for the Jan. 21 referendum) is a ‘no’ then that creates an interesting situation. It doesn’t make it (BOL) a failure. (It only) means ‘no’ is just the result. The weight of authority is that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region isn’t created at all, in which case it becomes a question if the Feb. 6 is even necessary,” Mr. Jimenez said in an interview last week.

For his part, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria C. Sison said in a statement on Sunday, “He (President Rodrigo R. Duterte) is setting the stage for a bigger armed conflict in the Bangsamoro and adjoining areas. The MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) enjoys the support of the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation) and is angry that previous agreements and arrangements it has made with the Manila government under OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] auspices are being swept away so arbitrarily by Duterte.”

Leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which broke away from the MNLF in the 1980s, will lead the administration of a Bangsamoro region under the BOL, if ratified in the plebiscite.

Mr. Sison added, “Thousands of MNLF followers in red shirts and Cotabato city officials made it a point to demonstrate at city hall to counter Duterte’s presence and campaign for BOL in the vicinity. In Maguindanao, the BIFF [Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters] and other forces do not agree with MILF’s collaboration with Duterte on BOL.”

Sought for comment, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana told reporters, “I am not going to dignify the comment of a person who has been away for close to three decades who has clearly lost touch of realities on the ground.”

Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo said in part that Mr. Sison “has issued yet another statement on a local issue he knows nothing about.”

For his part, Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año said in a statement on Saturday, “As much as the BOL is our ticket to a peaceful Mindanao, the plebiscite also poses as an opportunity for communist terrorists, extremists, and anti-BOL factions to sow violence and prevent the voting from happening. Thus, all hands are now on deck to ensure the peaceful and orderly conduct of the plebiscite.” — Gillian M. Cortez and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras