MANILA—The mayor of Cotabato City said Wednesday she would contest the result of Monday’s plebiscite showing residents voting to join a new autonomous region for the Muslim minority in southern Philippines.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) pulled off a major victory, securing what has been dubbed the “crown jewel” of an expanded Bangsamoro region, based on unofficial plebiscite results.
But Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who campaigned hard against her city’s inclusion to the new region, said the vote was marred by violence, and threats coming from MILF supporters.
“We are filing a protest,” she told ABS-CBN News, citing “massive disenfranchisement” of voters.
“I told you before about the abuses... it happened. It was real and actual and it would happen in the future. Those who voted ‘no’ were harassed.“
A total of 36,682 residents agreed to be part of the new autonomous area, while 24,994 rejected the proposed inclusion, based on the Commission on Elections’ unofficial count.
The Comelec en banc, sitting as a national board of canvassers, reset Wednesday’s 1 p.m. canvassing to 2 p.m. Thursday. The Cotabato City certificates of canvass were expected to arrive Wednesday afternoon.
Voter turnout was 54 percent of the 113,751 registered voters in the city, which had previously resisted joining the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), whose ratification is now highly likely, will replace the ARMM with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Under the BOL, which will implement the MILF’s 2014 peace agreement with the government, the rebel group will lead a 3-year transition authority beginning this year until the regular elections in 2022.
But Guiani said the plebiscite result in her city “did not reflect the true will of the people.”
She cited the presence of “thousands” of MILF men who allegedly “scared off” residents who were supposed to vote against inclusion. The MILF earlier denied this.
“Nakita mo naman lahat ng ginawa nila,” she said, “from the threats the teachers received, to the grenades to scare the voters, to the thousands of MILF supporters who blocked the real voters, to the violence in some areas, to the massive disenfranchisement.”
The mayor criticized police and the military for allegedly failing to “control” the situation.
“We have lots of irregularities to mention,” she said.
A grenade exploded in front of the house of a judge in Cotabato City on the eve of the Jan. 21 plebiscite, and another one was found near a school the following day.
A bombing at a shopping mall on New Year’s Eve had also killed 2 people and wounded at least 30 others.