MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) warned Filipinos against “mind setting” after the Bangsamoro plebiscite, as some quarters have reportedly exploited clerical errors in Cotabato City’s certificate of canvass (COC) to discredit the electoral process.
The plebiscite sought to determine if voters favor the creation of a more powerful Muslim region in the southern Philippines – the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) – a proposal fueling tensions especially in Cotabato City.
Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani Sayadi, a staunch critic of the proposed BARMM, said she will file a manifestation about the supposed COC discrepancies, as she disputed her city’s apparent “yes” vote in the plebiscite.
The plebiscite results will soon be finalized by the Comelec, sitting as the National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (NPBOC), in its Manila headquarters.
“I think mananaig ang katotohanan as soon as it is ventilated sa ating National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (I think truth will prevail as soon as it is ventilated to our National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers),” said Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez in a phone conference with reporters on Wednesday, January 23.
“Kailangan lang ‘yung mga kababayan natin siyempre ‘wag magpapadala sa mga ganoong klaseng kumbaga eh mind setting o pagko-condition ng atmosphere (What we need is that our countrymen should not let themselves be swayed by that kind of mind setting or conditioning of the atmosphere),” he added.
The supposed clerical errors in the Cotabato City COC involved the following:
- The listing of 39,027 as the “total number of voters who actually voted,” when the COC itself said 36,682 voted “yes” and 24,994 voted “no.”
- The listing of 71,963 as the “total number of registered voters” in Cotabato City, when the Project of Precincts (POP), a secure document with its own computer-generated hash code, said there were 113,751 registered voters there.
The discrepancies did not involve the result itself.
Still, Sayadi said her camp will file a manifestation about the COC discrepancies in Cotabato City.
Sayadi will also file a protest before the Comelec about a number of acts she attributed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – “from the threats the teachers received, to the grenades to scare the voters, to the thousands of MILF supporters who blocked the real voters.”
Sayadi said the plebiscite “did not reflect the true will of the people.”
Jimenez made assurances, however, that discrepancies do not necessarily mean there was cheating.
Referring to the POP, he said, “Meron siyang hash code sa baba, kasi computer-generated ‘yon, so very secure ‘yung data na ‘yon (It also has a hash code below, because that is computer-generated, so that data is very secure). Compare that to a handwritten note.”
He also pointed out another correction in the document, where the “3” in a “373” figure was replaced with “4.”
“It’s clear to me at least that this is a manifest error,” Jimenez said.
“It happens in every elections that small errors like this are made. I think what’s more relevant is the counting. The reported figures, both those that were flashed on the screen and those that are reflected in the COC, are actually consistent,” he added.
Jimenez suspects that “the form was filled up ahead of time as far as the statistics were concerned, and then inihabol ‘yung actual results (the actual results were later included).”
He added that it is up to the NPBOC “to decide what level of discipline” will be imposed on Cotabato City’s board of canvassers, if any.
The NPBOC, composed of Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas and the poll body’s 6 commissioners, will resume its canvassing session at 2 pm on Thursday, January 24.
This is after the Cotabato COC arrived at the Comelec headquarters in Intramuros at around 4:48 pm on Wednesday.
This document from Cotabato City is the first COC received by the Comelec in Manila after the Bangsamoro plebiscite. – Rappler.com