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Palawan residents headed to polling centers on a rainy Saturday, March 13, to vote in a historic plebiscite and decide whether to divide their province into 3.
In the Palawan plebiscite, voters will approve or reject the plan to split Palawan into 3 separate provinces – Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur – under Republic Act No. 11259.
Voters in this plebiscite, which is manual, are being asked to write yes (oo) if they agree with the proposal, or no (hindi) if they disagree.
Voting hours are from 7 am to 3 pm on Saturday. Commission on Elections (Comelec) Spokesperson James Jimenez said earlier that the poll body expects to announce the results by Tuesday, March 16, “since we have to take into account the weather also and other circumstances.”
This is also the first electoral exercise held in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is viewed as a potential template for holding elections under strict health measures.
Safety protocols include limiting to 5 the people inside polling precincts at any given time, according to the Comelec. While voters are not required to wear face shields in polling precincts, the wearing of face masks is mandatory.
Comelec Commissioner Antonio Kho Jr earlier said that Isolation Polling Places (IPPs) were set up in addition to regular polling precincts for voters who will show symptoms of COVID-19.
The plebiscite was originally scheduled on May 11, 2020, but was postponed due to quarantine measures implemented in response to COVID-19.
Watchdogs: Health protocols observed in most polling centers
Based on their initial monitoring, poll watchdogs observed that heavy rainfall on Saturday morning did not keep Palaweños from casting their votes, and that proper health protocols were observed in most polling centers. (READ: LPA affecting Palawan as province votes in plebiscite)
“NAMFREL observers reported that in general, election paraphernalia to be used in the plebiscite were received on schedule, polling precincts opened on time, and there was no significant delay in the start of voting,” the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) said in a preliminary statement on the Palawan plebiscite early Saturday afternoon.
“Observers also note that the process appears well-organized, and anti-COVID protocols are being enforced and followed,” NAMFREL added, citing the preliminary observations of its volunteers during the opening procedures, the first few hours of voting, and some pre-plebiscite activities.
Lente said in a statement, “Despite the heavy rainfall and the threat of COVID-19, Palaweños lined up to cast their votes as early as 6:00 am in the Palawan plebiscite.”
Lente also observed that while proper health protocols were observed in most polling centers, there were areas that were “not as strict in their implementation” as some voters were allowed to enter even without face masks on.
NAMFREL also said that in some instances, physical distancing was not observed in some queues due to the downpour at the start of the voting.
Vote buying incidents
The poll watchdogs also cited reports of vote buying.
Lente said there were reports of alleged vote buying in “multiple areas the day before elections,” with payment supposedly ranging from P200 to P1,000.
“NAMFREL expressed concern over reports of vote buying prior to Plebiscite Day. In Brooke’s Point town, a NAMFREL observer personally witnessed the distribution of envelopes with P200 inside in exchange for people to vote a certain way in the plebiscite. NAMFREL is dismayed that this corrupt practice has found its way to this electoral exercise,” the watchdog said.
Lente also cited “reports of police personnel and barangay tanods acting as marshals in the voting center,” specifically at the Rizal Central School and the Laudio Sandoval Elementary School, in violation of the Omnibus Election Code.
Meanwhile, #NoTo3in1Palawan became a top trending topic on Twitter in the Philippines on Saturday, even after polling precincts closed at 3 pm, as netizens appealed to Palawan voters not to allow the division of Palawan into 3 separate provinces.
The province of Palawan has a total of 490,639 registered voters. – with reports from Jezreel Ines/Rappler.com