Polls close in historic Bangsamoro plebiscite

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Polls closed at 3 pm on Monday, January 21, ending the first day of voting in the historic Bangsamoro plebiscite. 

Voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Cotabato City, and Isabela City, cast their “yes” or “no” votes, which will determine whether or not the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) will be ratified, and an expanded Bangsamoro Region will be created. (READ: Land of promise: Why the Bangsamoro plebiscite matters to you)

But delays in the opening of voting centers marred the Bangsamoro plebiscite in Cotabato City, where ballots were delivered late and teachers functioning as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) did not show up after alleged intimidation. 

ARMM Comelec chief Rey Sumalipao said this led to some 8,000 people waiting for more than an hour before they could cast their votes in Cotabato City. 

On top of delays were reports of alleged intimidation and vote buying, which led supporters of the BOL to face off with those against it. 

In Vilo Central Elementary School, a confrontation broke out between a policeman securing the polling precinct and a member of a pro-BOL crowd. The crowd, many of them dressed in the green color associated with the pro-BOL side, demanded to know why the police and soldiers were letting in people when polling precincts had already closed at 3pm. It was around 3:20 pm at the time.

Shouts of “Allah hu akbar!” ensued from the crowd. The policeman explained that they were not letting in more voters, but poll watchers. He said poll watchers from one side of the plebiscite vote had to be augmented because some of them had left the precinct.

After the explanation, the crowd calmed down. 

Before that confrontation, the crowd had also shouted “bawal ‘yan! (that’s not allowed),” when anyone tried to enter the school gate. 

Some voters said they were angry because they tried to enter earlier but were not allowed by security enforcers.

This polling precinct was among the 24 which did not open on time because teachers functioning as Board of Election Inspectors failed to show up. The school opened past 8 am or more than an hour late.

Depsite the tensions in Cotabato City, Sumalipao said voting went smoothly in provinces of the ARMM and Isabela City.  

Commission on Elections Spokesperson James Jimenez urged Mindanoans to take part in the next voting day of the plebiscite.

If majority of voters in the areas that participated in Monday's plebiscite vote “yes” to the new BARMM, a second voting day will take place on February 6. This time, in Lanao del Norte – except Iligan City – and 7 towns in North Cotabato.

“You have the right to vote yes or no…. I would also encourage everyone to go out and vote – regardless of what they heard, for the future of the Bangsamoro region,” Jimenez said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.