MANILA (2nd UPDATE)—More than half — or 59 percent — of voters in Cotabato City ratified the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), according to the final count of the Cotabato City Plebiscite Board of Canvassers.
As of 8:35 p.m. Tuesday, 36,682 voted for the measure, while 24,994 voters voted nay. This brings the total votes to 61,676, out of 113,751 registered voters, with a voter turnout of 54.22 percent in the city.
The law, which resulted from a peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has been a hotly contested topic in this southern city as the Cotabato mayor herself, Cynthia Guiani Sayadi, has been actively campaigning against the landmark legislation.
The local chief executive believes the city is better off not joining the Bangsamoro region that, if ratified, would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Cotabato City already rejected joining the ARMM on 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.
The MILF denied Tuesday that it resorted to intimidation and vote buying to influence the plebiscite.
MILF peace implementing panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said it is about time for everyone to unite as one.
“It's like boxing, in boxing, when you start you almost kill each other in the ring but of course with the rules, you have to follow the rules you don't need to punch below the belt but as per the bout whether you won or lose they just have time to embrace, so this is the time to embrace each other," he said.
Maguindanao 1st District Rep. Bai Sandra Sema said Cotabato City should be the capital of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
“The people have spoken and the plebiscite is over. We thank Allah for this blessing and we thank the ordinary voters who have spoken either yes or no," she said.
"It's now time to move forward for the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region making Cotabato City the capital, the crown jewel of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region."
Guiani Sayadi, meanwhile, said she will file a protest following the result of the plebiscite.
“Rights of Cotabateños were suppressed. We were harassed by people who are not residents of the City. They may deny it but it is reality," she said.
—With reports from Dexter Ganibe and Arianne Apatan, ABS-CBN News