Sunday May, 26 2024 11:53:13 PM

Peaceful BARMM plebiscite beckons hope for new citizens of BARMM

BANGSAMORO NEWS UPDATES • 17:45 PM Mon Apr 15, 2024
Edwin O. Fernandez
A deluge of enthusiastic voters arrives at the polling precinct in Barangay Patot, Pigcawayan to cast their votes in the plebiscite. Photo courtesy of Early Response Network.

COTABATO CITY  – The voters in 63 villages in North Cotabato on Saturday ratified the creation of eight new municipalities in the Bangsamoro region in a quiet and peaceful exercise during an electoral process that stood in sharp contrast with the blood and violent village elections in 2023.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec), in a statement, said the plebiscite had an 81.10 percent voter turnout. Out of its 89,594 registered voters, 72,660 have voted.  Of these 72,358 voted in favor of the creation of eight towns while 273 voted “No.”  

Member of Parliament Mohammad Kellie Antao who voted yes said the voting was the culmination of the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people in the area for inclusion in the autonomous region.

“The event today is indeed historical as this represents the aspirations of our people,” Antao said.

“It was a successful, peaceful, and orderly conduct of plebiscite,” said Cotabato provincial election supervisor Lawyer Mayla Luna-Bayao told reporters.

The Council for Climate and Conflict Action Asia (CCAA), through its critical events monitoring system (CEMS)-Early Response Network, has fielded personnel to observe the conduct of the plebiscite.

“(It) was a peaceful plebiscite (that) beckons hope for new citizens of the BARMM,” Maureen Lacuesta, senior program manager of the CCAA, said on Sunday.

She said that SGA voters were excited as they queued as early as 6 a.m. to cast their votes in the plebiscite, an hour earlier than the official start of the voting.

ERN reported that a significant number of the polling precincts have finished early, with some recording more than 70% voter turnout as early as 10 a.m. or five hours earlier than the closure of precincts at 3 p.m.

Except for a lone case of clan feuding in one barangay in Aleosan that affected voter turnout, and the noticeable refusal to vote of more than half of the voters in another barangay in Pigcawayan, the all-embracing narrative was one of anticipation and excitement as both old and young voters celebrated the results.

Lacuesta said youth leaders interviewed by the ERN claimed victory for the peacefulness of the process and the overwhelming yes vote.

"We campaigned for participation and a yes vote to finally acquire development support in our areas and to test our ability to draw support for our advocacies for the forthcoming 2025 elections," said Nasruddin Guiabar, a barangay youth leader in Midsayap, Cotabato.

Traditional leaders echoed the same theme.

"We gained no benefits from joining the BARMM in the first plebiscite, so we had to deliver on this second one to acquire the benefits that were denied to us," according to Buhare Kutea, a community leader in Kabacan, Cotabato province.

This perception comes after more than five years of being orphaned both by the Bangsamoro government and the Cotabato province after voting "yes" to join the BARMM in the 2019 plebiscite.

The CCCA said that peace and stability were secured by the collaboration and overwhelming security presence of police, military, and local government officials in all villages — a lesson that must guide planning for the decisive and larger 2025 elections.

It also helped that the entire process was placed in the hands of the Commission on Elections office of North Cotabato, outside BARMM — avoiding any perception of coercion and manipulation from vested political interests within the BARMM, it added.

On the implementation of the election gun ban, two men on separate motorbikes were arrested hours after the voting started in Barangay Kitulaan, Carmen, Cotabato province.  The village of Kitulaan was one of the 63 villages where the plebiscite was conducted on Saturday.

Ombra Agoy, Kitulaan village chair, the two were apprehended along the police checkpoint in front of the voting venue in Kitulaan Elementary School.

Agoy said they were not voters nor residents of the village but passersby from another barangay. 

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