Maguindanao plebiscite

Group calls for postponement of Maguindanao plebiscite

Rommel Rebollido
Group calls for postponement of Maguindanao plebiscite

Nico Villarete/Rappler

Proponents of the postponement are running out of time with just a week before plebiscite day

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – An interfaith organization on Friday, September 9, urged the government to consider postponing the September 17 plebiscite in Maguindanao that would decide if the province would be divided into two provinces.

The Interfaith for Peace and Clean Election (IM4PEACE) proposed that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) move the plebiscite to November so that Maguindanao voters would have two more months to understand the pros and cons of a split.

The Comelec counted 939,011 Maguindanao residents qualified to either vote “yes” or “no” during the plebiscite.

But the proponents of the postponement are running out of time with just a week before plebiscite day and given the Comelec’s announcement that all is set for the political exercise. A postponement would need the imprimatur of Congress.

The plebiscite would determine the fate of Republic Act No. 11550, a law that carves a new province out of the present Maguindanao.

The law, authored by former Maguindanao representatives Esmael Mangudadatu and Datu Roonie Sinsuat Sr., and sponsored by Senator Francis Tolentino in the Senate, was signed into law by then-president Rodrigo Duterte in 2021.

If ratified, the 36-town province would be divided into two and would be known as Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur.

IM4PEACE coordinator Goldy Omelio said the group made the call to postpone the plebiscite again after their consultations showed that many Maguindanao residents were unaware of the September 17 exercise.

The plebiscite was originally scheduled last year but was postponed because the Comelec was preoccupied with the 2022 national and local elections.

“Many residents in far-flung communities still need to be informed properly on the pros and cons of dividing Maguindanao into two provinces,” Omelio said.

She said the IM4PEACE went around and validated the findings during meetings with indigenous peoples, religious, labor, women, and other groups.

IM4PEACE noted the inadequate Comelec campaign information on the reasons why Maguindanao would be divided.

“The postponement last year should have given Comelec time to prepare so that people would be properly informed and make a good decision,” Omelio said.

The group said politicians who want Maguindanao split into two were more aggressive in campaigning for “yes” votes.

Omelio cited campaign materials like tarpaulins that were produced by groups calling for yes votes.

Maguindanao election supervisor Udtog Tago, however, said the plebiscite would be held as scheduled, saying the ballots and other materials needed had already arrived this week, and the security was in place.

“It’s all systems go,” Tago said.

If ratified, Maguindanao del Norte would be composed of the following towns:

  • Barira
  • Buldon
  • Datu Blah Sinsuat
  • Datu Odin Sinsuat
  • Kabuntalan
  • Matanog
  • Northern Kabuntalan
  • Parang
  • North Upi
  • Sultan Kudarat
  • Sultan Mastura
  • Talitay

Maguindanao del Norte’s capital would be the town of Datu Odin Sinsuat.

Under the setup, Maguindanao del Sur would keep Buluan, the present seat of the provincial government. 

Its territory, including Buluan, would include the following towns:

  • Ampatuan
  • Datu Abdulla Sangki
  • Datu Anggal Midtimbang
  • Datu Hoffer Ampatuan
  • Datu Montawal
  • Datu Paglas
  • Datu Piang
  • Datu Salibo
  • Datu Saudi Ampatuan
  • Datu Unsay
  • General Salipada K. Pendatun
  • Guindulungan
  • Mamasapano
  • Mangudadatu
  • Pagalungan
  • Paglat
  • Pandag
  • Rajah Buayan
  • Sharif Aguak
  • Sharif Saydona Mustafa
  • Sultan sa Barongis
  • Talayan
  • South Upi

If ratified, Governor Mariam Mangudadatu would serve as the provincial chief executive of Maguindanao del Sur while Vice Governor Ainee Sinsuat would automatically rise and be the governor of Maguindanao del Norte.

Maguindanao police said it has set up 233 checkpoints across the province and would deploy more than a thousand police officers during the plebiscite.

Despite a gun ban imposed in the province since August 16, Maguindanao has been beset with gun violence and killings since the May elections, the most recent of which was the killing of Ampatuan police chief Lieutenant Reynaldo Samson and his aide. – Rappler.com

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