Maguindanao plebiscite

8-hour Maguindanao plebiscite begins

Rommel Rebollido
8-hour Maguindanao plebiscite begins

Nico Villarete/Rappler

The fate of Maguindanao rests in the hands of over 800,000 registered voters in the province

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – The eight-hour plebiscite that will determine if Maguindanao would be divided into two provinces started at 7 am on Saturday, September 17, as precincts opened across Maguindanao.

Plebiscite precincts will remain open until 3 pm on Saturday.

The political exercise is reminiscent of a similar plebiscite 16 years ago when Maguindanao’s voters ratified a law of the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that created the province of Shariff Kabunsuan out of 10 northern towns carved out of the approximately 4,900-square kilometer territory.

The big difference now is that Maguindanao’s voters would ratify or reject a law crafted and passed by the Philippine Congress and signed by then-president Rodrigo Duterte in 2021. 

In contrast, Shariff Kabunsuan ceased to exist after two years when the Supreme Court (SC) ruled against the ARMM law’s constitutionality.

The fate of Maguindanao rests in the hands of 818,790 of the province’s more than 1.6 million population who are eligible to cast their ballots in 467 voting centers spread throughout the predominantly Muslim province.

Maguindanao voters simply have to answer yes or no on the ballots prepared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

A yes vote for Republic Act No. 11550 would mean the creation of the provinces of Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte, and a no vote would mean a status quo.

If ratified, Maguindanao del Sur would keep Buluan, the capital town of the current province, as its seat of power while Maguindanao del Norte would establish its center in Datu Odin Sinsuat town.

The plebiscite would also determine whether Governor Mariam Mangudadatu would be the last governor of the undivided Maguindanao, and be Maguindanao del Sur’s first. 

Mangudadatu is Maguindanao’s first female governor.

If the province votes no, Vice Governor Ainee Sinsuat would stay as Maguindanao’s second highest official and presiding officer of the provincial board. But if the law is ratified, Sinsuat would ascend and become Maguindanao del Norte’s first governor.

A dozen towns have been identified as part of Maguindanao del Norte’s territory. The towns are the following:

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

Maguindanao del Sur would keep most of the present province’s towns under the setup. The towns include the following:

  • Ampatuan
  • Buluan
  • 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
  • Shariff Aguak
  • Shariff Saydona Mustafa
  • Sultan sa Barongis
  • Talayan
  • South Upi

The result of the plebiscite is expected to be announced on Sunday, September 18, either by Maguindanao elections supervisor Udtog Tago, or Comelec Chairman George Garcia, who is personally witnessing the electoral exercise.

The plebiscite was originally slated in September 2021, but did not push through due to Comelec preparations for the 2022 national and local polls.

Following the May 9 vote, the Comelec set a September 17 date for the Maguindanao plebiscite, after the provincial government allotted an P89.1-million budget for the event. – With reports from Dwight de Leon/Rappler.com

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