By Zea Capistrano and Leslie Ann Aquino
COTABATO CITY – The “Yes” and “No” votes are in a tight race when the city’s Plebiscite Board of Canvassers for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebiscite took a recess.
At that time, votes from 159 out of the 374 clustered precincts were already counted. No was slightly ahead with 13,681 votes, while Yes got 13,484 votes.
The plebiscite will decide the territories that will be covered by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it intends to finish the canvassing of votes at the national level in a week’s time.
“Our target is one week. That really depends on the travel of the election returns,” Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas said in an interview right after the convening of the National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (NPBOC), Tuesday in Intramuros, Manila.
In a press conference, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the counting of the ballots in Cotabato City officially started at 10 p.m. Monday.
“They were awaiting the arrival of the ballot boxes as per instruction of the Comelec en banc. We have to wait for the arrival of the ballot boxes,” he said.
The canvassing of votes took a recess at 1:30 a.m. and was reconvened at 6 a.m. Tuesday at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center. Another recess took place at noon Tuesday.
Once the results are all in, Jimenez said it will be transmitted directly to Manila.
Jimenez also said the provincial canvassing is also ongoing. He said that as of 7 a.m. Tuesday, the provincial canvassing at the ARMM Regional Library inside the main auditorium of the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center was already halfway done for the canvass of Maguindanao province.
Jimenez said they are also expecting the canvass reports for the regional canvassing.
Although the NPBOC was already convened, the session was immediately suspended as there was no certificate of canvass yet.
“We just opened it so that our proceedings will be continuous. We will canvass whatever comes in,” said Abas.
In his opening speech, the poll chief vowed to proclaim the sovereign will of the people.
“Yesterday…once again we as a nation made history as our people expressed their sovereign will by exercising their right to vote in Mindanao,” said Abas.
“And today the commission by its canvass of the results shall proclaim that will in the most transparent and inclusive manner,” he added.
For the January 21 plebiscite, the NPBOC is set to canvass four Certificates of Canvass (COCs).
They include the Regional Plebiscite Certificate of Canvass (RPCOC) from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Provincial Plebiscite Certificate of Canvass (PPCOC) from Basilan, and the City Plebiscite Certificates of Canvass (CPCOC) from Isabela City and Cotabato City.
Aside from Abas, other members of the NPBOC present Tuesday were Commissioners Al Parreño, Luie Guia, and Marlon Casquejo.
The Board will resume its session at 1 p.m. today.
95 cases of poll-related violence
Meanwhile, a non-government organization recorded 95 cases of election-related violence during the January 21 plebiscite.
Dr. Francisco Lara Jr., peace and conflict analyst of the International Alert, said the 95 incidents they monitored on Monday “were so minor in nature.”
Among the major incidents that took place is the grenade-throwing outside the house of a judge in Cotabato City on the eve of the plebiscite day. Authorities also found an unexploded grenade at the entrance of the Cotabato City National High School-Rojas Site in Bagua here Monday morning.
Lara said they also recorded cases of fistfights in Cotabato City, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi. Cases of ballot snatching were also recorded.
Major General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said the IED explosion will be investigated.
He said they are looking at three possible angles on the grenade-throwing incident outside the house of Judge Angelito Razalan, including the judge’s nature of work, personal grudge, and its relation to the conduct of the BOL plebiscite.