MANILA — Muslim enclaves in 2 southern Philippine provinces are set to vote Wednesday whether to join a new autonomous region, lured by the promise of prosperity and security after decades of armed conflict.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said no “great disruptions” were expected during the Feb. 6 plebiscite, despite fears of a possible spillover of violence from the bomb attacks in Sulu and Zamboanga City.
The explosions came after the initial Jan. 21 plebiscite, which ratified the new Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). Authorities said the attacks had nothing to do with the vote.
”Let’s face it — the Jan. 21 plebiscite was a success and we hope to duplicate that success here,” said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, who projected a voter turnout of at least 70 percent tomorrow.
The next round of plebiscite will determine if more areas will be added to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which now includes Cotabato City.
The vote will cover 6 towns in Lanao del Norte and 67 villages in North Cotabato.
Following the “double-majority” rule, Lanao del Norte will have to consent to the inclusion of the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal in the BARMM.
The 67 barangays in North Cotabato will also need the majority vote from the 7 towns covering them: Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Tulunan.
An initial 39 communities from North Cotabato were allowed to decide whether to join the new region under the BOL.
Petitions from 28 more villages to be included in the new region were later allowed by the Comelec.
The Jan. 21 plebiscite was beset by complaints that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) allegedly harassed residents, particularly in Cotabato City, to vote for inclusion.
The MILF, which was seeking to implement its 2014 peace agreement with the Philippine government, denied the allegation coming mainly from Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi.
Guiani earlier complained of the presence of thousands of MILF combatants, who allegedly intimidated voters.
Jimenez said authorities could not “unduly restrict the movement of people, who are coming to an area for peaceful purposes.”
“Kailangan lang natin 'yung mga botante natin magtiwala that the authorities have the situation well in hand,” he told reporters.
Jimenez said “special monitoring teams” had been deployed to Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato to assist local election officials on problems such as possible delays in voting.
“If a teacher at the last minute decides, ‘I’m not gonna show up,’ then there will be a delay,” he said.
“What we can control in that situation is our response to it.”
Alternate teachers will replace those who might not be able to show up on plebiscite day, he said.
Guiani earlier showed ABS-CBN News screenshots of cellphone messages warning teachers in Cotabato City against serving during the plebiscite.
Jimenez said the canvassing of votes was expected to be completed in 4 days.