MANILA/COTABATO CITY - Polling precincts in parts of Mindanao closed before sundown on Monday after seeing a "very good" voter turnout in a plebiscite on a proposed law that will grant wider autonomy to the Muslim region in the south.
Operations winded down around 3:00 PM, but precincts where people are still lined up to vote will remain open until all are able to cast their ballots, said Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez.
Initial anecdotal reports indicate that "turnout is very good, in fact very high," said Jimenez, adding that this information is subject to validation at the end of the actual voting period.
"There was a probable effect from the fear that was generated by all of the news about bombs and threats being made to individuals, but I think on the whole, the elections were very successful," he told ANC's Market Edge.
At least 150,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front members were expected to vote in the plebiscite. Among those who appeared at the polling station was MILF Chairman Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim, who for the first time exercised his right to suffrage.
Officials earlier reported flying voters and intimidation from armed men. A grenade was also found near 3 schools in this city, which was later detonated without causing injuries.
Jimenez said some teachers chose not to serve during Monday's plebiscite, leading to delays in the opening of several precincts.
Authorized canvassers are expected to begin the counting of votes soon as the plebiscite followed the manual voting process. The tally of votes will be transmitted to Manila and the final results will be announced within 4 days.
Monday's plebiscite is the first voting day for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the enabling law of a 5-year-old peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Cotabato City, Isabela City in Basilan were the first to cast their ballots.
Cotabato City, which although geographically located within the province of Maguindanao inside the region, rejected joining the ARMM in previous plebiscites. Its current mayor, Cynthia Guiani, actively campaigned against the BOL.
The MILF insisted on the inclusion of Cotabato in the proposed new region, stressing that the city, which had seen armed encounters before the peace deal ended the conflict, has always been a part of the Bangsamoro struggle.
Another vote is set for Feb. 6 to cover barangays in North Cotabato, and Lanao del Norte, except for Iligan City, which petitioned to join the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Comelec expects voter turnout then to be as good as it was on Monday, since there had been about 100 barangays that sought to be included in the region.
"I would encourage everyone to go out and vote regardless of whatever they may have heard. It’s very important to take part in the future of the region," Jimenez said. - with Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News