Scuffles erupt in Cotabato poll precinct on Bangsamoro plebiscite day

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 21 2019 03:16 PM | Updated as of Jan 21 2019 05:43 PM

A man got punched when several individuals mobbed him inside the Cotabato City Pilot School on Monday, plebiscite day for the Bangsamoro Organic Law. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

COTABATO CITY – A couple of scuffles erupted at a polling precinct in the city proper when several individuals mobbed two people who claimed to be poll watchers for the Bangsamoro plebiscite on Monday.

This ABS-CBN News team first caught a video of the mob surrounding a voter and a poll watcher sitting on a gutter of the Cotabato Central Pilot school.

“Lumapit siya sa ’kin kay kabarangay ko. Nakaupo lang ako dito, lumapit siya. Botante lang ako, simpleng tao lang ako. Nagpapahinga ako… Unfair yang ginagawa ninyo, dinudumog niyo ako,” said the woman voter. 

“’Yung appointment ko para sa watcher pero ba’t ganoon sila? Nakakasakitan na. Peace ba talaga ang gusto?” said the other woman who claims to have an appointment as poll observer. Both their IDs were taken away by unidentified men.

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Just a few minutes after the incident, another scuffle erupted in another part of the school when several men also mobbed on a man who claims to be a poll watcher.

“Sabi nila ‘yung ID, fake daw ‘yung ID namin,” said observer Bong Sebastian, who also voted in the precinct earlier this day. “Binugbog ako, pinagtulungan.” The mob immediately ran away as the police escorted the people who were hurt to safety.

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 A few minutes, a third scuffle erupted in the same precinct, when a group called crime watchers tried to hand over a man who they claimed was causing trouble in the area. 

One of the group’s members who refused to give his name said they were bringing the supposed trouble-maker to the police when someone from the crowd hit the man. He said the police placed the blame on them when in truth, they did not know who was the person who hit the supposed trouble-maker.

“Dadalhin na sa authority may nagsuntok na sa tao na ‘yun. Hindi sa amin ang tao na ‘yun,” he said.

“Kinuha nila ‘yung kasama namin. May isang pulis doon, gusto akong barilin,” said another group member.

Military men later on arrived to secure the area.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law, which resulted from a pace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has been a hotly-contested topic in this southern city as the mayor herself, Cynthia Guiani, has been actively campaigning against the landmark legislation.

The local chief executive believes this city is better of on its own than joining the Bangsamoro region that, if ratified, will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Cotabato City already rejected joining the ARMM in a two previous plebiscites. 

The MILF has insisted on the inclusion of Cotabato in the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 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.

Citizens here were mixed in their opinion on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, when asked by this ABS-CBN News team before the plebiscite-—some said they were in favor of the law believing it will heal wounds left by historical injustices against the Moro, while some said no fearing the new form of government.

But MILF chair Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim said the group is confident that Cotabato will say yes to the Bangsamoro Organic Law because of the supposed unity between them, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the other Moro group in the city.

President Rodrigo Dutetre, who signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018, even personally campaigned for the legislation in this city last Friday despite the mayor's vocal opposition to the law.