COTABATO CITY, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Some 8,000 people had to wait hours before casting their vote on the Bangsamoro Organic Law because teachers functioning as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) did not show up.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Comelec chief Rey Sumalipao said 24 precincts opened late on Monday, January 21, by as much as 3 hours. Precincts are supposed to open at exactly 7 am and close at 3 pm. Voters have only this window to cast their votes.
All 24 precincts are now open and functioning, Sumalipao said during a press conference.
The 72 teachers who did not arrive in their precincts were allegedly intimidated.
“Allegedy, there were threats addressed to them, mostly through text messages,” said Sumalipao. He himself, however, did not read the text messages but said they were reported to him by his staff and other observers.
Because of the delay, his office has requested the Comelec en banc in Manila to decide if voting time can be extended on Monday.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez could not say when the en banc will reach a decision but said in the past, it was released “as late as two hours before the original closing time.”
The en banc usually allows an extension in cases when voting rights have been violated.
“If the en banc feels that the voting rights have been infringed upon because of the delay and usually what they do is the hours that you lost will be added to you at the end of the period, based on the principle of parity,” said Jimenez.
As long as the en banc has not decided, polling precincts will close at 3 pm.
But Sumalipao advised people who are yet to vote to to be at their precincts by 3 pm so they can at least be listed as having been there at that time. Those in the list will be allowed to vote even past 3 pm.
At the Cotabato City Central Pilot School, additional ballots for Rosary Heights 3 voters arrived late at 10 am. The ballots were delivered by personnel from the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Police told Rappler “Ngayon lang namin to nakuha sa Comelec. Nag-back out kasi ang mga volunteer teachers, kaya kami ang ipinalit.” (We just got this from Comelec. Volunteer teachers backed out, that's why we assumed their roles.)
Sumalipao said the teachers who are supposed to be Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) received alleged threats via text messages, causing them not to show up during the plebiscite.
Aside from Cotabato City, Sumalipao said there were no major incidents in other areas participating in the plebiscite.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim, who was able to vote that morning, said he has reported the non-arrival of teachers in precincts to the military and Malacañang’s Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Proces (OPAPP).
“That is our worry in Cotabato City because it seems that there are groups trying to create a situation so voters teachers will be scared, they won’t show up…But we have already brought up this matter to the security and OPAPP…We’re hoping they will find a way that this problem will be addressed because people cannot vote,” said Murad.
In a phone conference with Manila-based journalists, Comelec spokesman Jimenez said: "Maayos. Talagang ang naging sore spot lang talaga, Cotabato. Again, number one, nagkaroon ng delay ang opening. Number two, na-delay ang opening dahil may mga teacher na nag-back out at the last minute. Number 3, dahil may mga teacher na nag-back out at the last minute, napilitang pumalit ang PNP. So about 77 members of the PNP had to perform plebiscite committee functions."
(The plebiscite has been orderly. Cotabato was really the only sore spot. Again, number one, there were delays in opening some precincts. Number two, these delays happened because some teachers backed out at the last minute. Number 3, because some teachers backed out at the last minute, the Philippine National Police was forced to take over.)
Jimenez explained: "Ang problema natin diyan is that a lot of them had filled up the necessary forms the night before. So nung pumasok na 'yung mga alternate, eh natagalan sa pagproproseso kasi hahabulin nila 'yung mga documentary requirements nila, kaya naka-contribute 'yan sa delay."
(Our problem there is that a lot of them had filled up the necessary forms the night before. So when their alternates came on board, it took time before they could complete their documentary requirements, so that contributed to the delay.) – with reports from Johanie Mae Kusain and Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.