MANILA—The plebiscite for a law creating a new region for the Philippines’ Muslim minority in the south was credible, the country’s poll commission said Tuesday, despite reports of alleged harassment of voters in at least one city.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) received reports on 7 incidents in Cotabato City, said chairman Sheriff Abas, who described them as “small commotions.”
Mayor Cynthia Guiani alleged that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) deployed “thousands” of its men to her city on plebiscite day to “scare off” residents from voting against joining the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.
The MILF, which campaigned hard for the new law to implement its 2014 peace agreement with the government, has denied pressuring Cotabato residents.
Abas said he was not aware of the reported harassment because he opted not to go home to the city.
The poll chief, who is the nephew of MILF leader Mohagher Iqbal, earlier said he would not vote during the plebiscite because he might be construed as biased in favor of the new Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
“Credible talaga sya,” he told reporters, referring to the Jan. 21 plebiscite covering the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Cotabato City, and Isabela City in Basilan.
“Sa amin din namang hanay, walang untoward incidents, except lang 'yung maliliit na commotion sa Cotabato City.”
Ratifying the BOL would establish a new autonomous region replacing the existing ARMM. It will enjoy more powers, fiscal autonomy, and billions of pesos in block grant, development funds, and bigger revenue share.
The Comelec en banc convened as a national board of canvassers before noon on Tuesday, but suspended session shortly afterward because there were no voting certificates to count yet.
Session will resume at 1 p.m. Wednesday, a poll official announced. Certificates will be canvassed as they arrive.
Abas said the national board would receive 4 certificates of canvass representing ARMM, Basilan, Isabela City, and Cotabato City.
For the Feb. 6 plebiscite, 8 certificates of canvass will come from Lanao Del Norte, and 7 from North Cotabato.
The second plebiscite day was scheduled to cover areas that wish to be part of the new autonomous region.
“The conduct of the election like a plebiscite is a sign of a vibrant democracy in the country,” Abas said.
“It’s a testimony of strong institutions and maturity of its citizens. The sovereign will is expressed through their ballot and not through the bullet.”