Despite explosions, voters troop to polls in Bangsamoro plebiscite

LANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Despite an explosion that hit their home on the eve of the Bangsamoro plebiscite, thousands of voters from Barangay Maranding arrived at the Central Elementary School on Wednesday, February 5, to decide the future of the province of Lanao del Norte.  

Eileen Amin, 39, said she's been nervous in the days leading up to the plebiscite but that on Wednesday, she woke up fearless. “Hindi kami natakot lumabas ng bahay. Nandito kami. Yung gusto lang namin, walang gulo," she said. (We’re not afraid to leave our home. We’re here. We just want peace.)

A day before the plebiscite, 3 explosions occurred  in the province, including one in Barangay Maranding. 

Amin is one of about 352,000 registered voters in the 22 towns in Lanao de Norte joining the plebiscite. She is also from the biggest barangay (village) in the province, where some 9,000 residents are registered voters. (READ: Bangsamoro Vote 2019)

The second plebiscite on Wedneday is being held in Lanao del Norte, except Iligan City, and 7 towns in North Cotabato.

It's aimed at expanding the territory covered by the new Bangsamoro region.


The first plebiscite held last January 21 saw the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as well as Cotabato City ratifying the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and agreeing to join the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that the law created.

The BOL and BARMM are the result of the peace agreement between the previous Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which aims to end decades of Moro rebellion in lieu of a powerful autonomous region. The MILF is to lead the region in a 3-year transition until elections for members of parliament in 2022.

Will 6 towns vote yes?

Advocates of the Bangsamoro region see an "easier win" in North Cotabato. (READ: BOL plebiscite: 'Easier win' seen in North Cotabato than Lanao del Norte)

It will not be as easy in Lanao del Norte.

A business hub, Barangay Maranding is in the town of Lala where residents, along with other voters in 21 municipalities, are asked the question of whether or not 6 towns in the province should be part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The 6 towns are: Tagoloan, Balo-i, Pantar, Munai, Nunungan, and Tangcal. 

Tension ran high in Lala a day before the vote with those for and against the inclusion of the 6 towns engaged in a confrontation. 

In the Central Elementary school, groups supporting the towns’ inclusion trooped to the voting site but were stopped from entering as they were not registered. 

Double majority challenge

Assuming that majority of the voters in the 6 towns vote “yes,” this does not automatically make them part of BARMM. 

The BOL allows the rest of the 16 towns of Lanao del Norte to have the final say. If majority of voters in these voting towns reject inclusion for the 6 towns, then BARMM will lose in Lanao del Norte.

This double majority challenge is a hurdle that both the ruling Dimaporo clan and the MILF will have to overcome. 

The ruling Dimaporo clan has actively campaigned against the inclusion of the 6 towns in Lanao del Norte. 

In 2001, while these 6 areas voted to be included in the previous plebiscite to join the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the rest of the province voted against it. 

Lanao del Norte 2nd District Representative Abdullah Dimaporo said he is banking on the 16 outlying towns to once again reject BARMM. 

Voting ends at 3 pm. –

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at