MANILA - Majority of voters in Sulu province rejected the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that seeks to expand the autonomous Muslim region in the south, according to the certificate of canvass obtained by ABS-CBN News on Wednesday.
Sulu was the first province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to complete its canvassing of votes from Monday's plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
The province's certificate of canvass shows 163,526 voted "no" against the measure while 137,630 voted "yes."
The document, however, appears to have wrongly stated the sum of the votes as 301,196 instead of 301,156.
ABS-CBN News reported this to Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez, who said he was verifying the supposed error.
The victory of the "no" votes, however, does not mean Sulu will not be part of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Under the BOL, the current ARMM will vote as one region. As of posting, the "yes" votes handily won in other ARMM provinces such as Maguindanao, Basilan, and Lanao del Sur.
The plebiscite in Sulu was generally peaceful, said election officer Atty. Udtog Tago.
Approving the BOL is among the final steps under a 2014 peace agreement between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) aimed at ending decades of strife that left some 120,000 people killed.
The peace process began in the 1990s and does not include hardline factions, including those aligned with the Islamic State group.
The "no" vote from Sulu was "not a rejection of the new autonomy" but a reflection of the influence of province's leaders as "70 percent of voters" were considered as "illiterate", Amina Rasul Bernando, President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy told ANC's Dateline Philippines.
"Do you really think that citizens, that the voting population would take the time to read the Bangsamoro Organic Law? They rely on their political leaders and if political leaders have a campaign that says the Bangsamoro is against the Tausug without saying why, it can be an influence," she said. -- With a report from Nickee Butlangan, ABS-CBN News