2nd BOL plebiscite peaceful despite explosions on eve
MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato — As voters started to pile up at the Indayla Silongan Elementary School in Barangay Kapinpilan here at mid-morning Wednesday, two MG-520 attack helicopters suddenly hovered above, circling the village a few times, prompting people to look up.
In the 1970s, the sound of helicopters would send residents in the villages of Kapinpilan and Sambulawan scampering for safety.
Known bailiwicks of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari, these two villages were among the worst affected areas by the government’s military operation in the 1970s to flush out the MNLF rebellion.
Kapinpilan and Sambulawan were also among the 13 villages here that petitioned to be part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
But on Wednesday, the day of the plebiscite on the proposed inclusion of the villages in the Bangsamoro, the faces of voters did not show a trace of fear.
Maj. Arvin Encinas, a spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said the two attack helicopters were deployed as part of the aerial security surveillance for the plebiscite in North Cotabato.
Encinas said no untoward incidents related to the plebiscite were reported in the province.
Sixty-seven villages in seven towns in North Cotabato have petitioned for inclusion in BARMM. These villages are in the towns of Midsayap, Pikit, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Carmen, Kabacan and Tulunan.
In Lanao del Norte, where six of the towns are also proposed for inclusion in the Bangsamoro, three explosions went off on the eve of the plebiscite, but the actual voting on the day of the plebiscite proved uneventful.
Lanao del Norte Gove. Imelda Dimaporo blamed members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the series of bomb attacks in the towns of Lala, Kauswagan, and Sultan Naga Dimaporo on Tuesday.
But MILF chair Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim said the bombings could only be done by those who wanted to sabotage the plebiscite and not the MILF.
Dimaporo told reporters the explosions carried out by members of the MILF in the three towns were meant to sow fear among the people as they knew the “yes” votes would not win in the two towns. The three towns were not among those proposed for inclusion in the Bangsamoro.
“It was meant to sow fear among the people, just like what they did in Cotabato City. So that the people will not come out and vote,” Dimaporo said.
The governor said the MILF under Commander Bravo, along with the office of presidential adviser on the peace process, had a peace rally in the province, but some of the MILF stayed in the towns after the rally ended.
“Kauswagan is a Christian municipality,” Dimaporo said. “They were attacked by the MILF in 2000.”
But Ebrahim said there was no basis at all for blaming the explosions on Commander Bravo.
“We cannot accept that accusation without any proof,” he said. “We have been campaigning very hard not to disturb the plebiscite because we know the people need to vote. If there are disturbances, that will discourage voters to go to voting places. I think those who would do that are those against the plebiscite.”
There were no casualties in the blasts.
Dimaporo had opposed the inclusion in BRMM of the six Lanao del Norte towns.
In some towns dominated by Christian settlers, several families left their homes and took refuge in nearby Ozamiz City on the eve of the plebiscite, fearing trouble might erupt.
The Ozamiz government said many evacuees went back to their towns to vote on Wednesday, but they returned Ozamiz afterward with more family members.
They said they still felt insecure in their communities because of the tension between opposing camps, a source from the city government said.
Mayor Rommel Arnado of Kauswagan town said around 300 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the MILF, were sighted around 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night in Barangay Cayuntor.
“Around 300 MILF regulars arrived in Barangay Cayuntor and they occupied the gymnasium. Around 10 o’clock, half of the troops went to Delabayan at Barangay Paiton. Someone called me from Delabayan [to notify me of their movements[,” the mayor said.
But voting went peacefully in the six Lanao del Norte towns proposed for inclusion in the Bangsamoro.
In Baloi, one of the six towns, voting started at 7:00 a.m. here without any problem, Pareddday Mangondaya, the head of the plebiscite committee, told the Inquirer.
Mangondaya said voting was peaceful in 25 polling centers in Baloi, which has 21,000 registered voters.
In Pantar town, four voting centers with 36 polling precincts simultaneously opened at 7:00 a.m.
At 12:30 p.m., voting in Tangkal was declared done, according to Col. Alex Aduca, commander of Joint Task Force Plebisito.
Tangkal has 18 voting centers and 6,706 registered voters.
At 6:00 p.m., members of the Plebiscite Provincial Board of Canvassers will convene at the SP Session Hall at the Provincial Capitol in Tubod town to receive and canvass the election returns or the certificate of canvass.
The BARMM, if the plebiscite should favor it, would replace the 28-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)
“This (BARMM) will put a period to the conflict in Mindanao and will bring peace and development to our communities,” Toto Kunakon, chair of Barangay Kapinpilan in Midsayap, told the Inquirer.
Kunakon, a member of the MILF before becoming a local government official, said he voted “yes” for the inclusion of his village in BARMM.
“We are tired of war,” Kunakon said. “This is the opportunity for Muslims to establish a government that will chart a better future for the Bangsamoro people.”
He said his vote was cast for future generations. He has 10 children, seven of whom are still in school.
But Rudy Abdul, an MNLF member loyal to Misuari and who lives at Barangay Sambulawan, voted against the inclusion of his village to the BARMM.
“I want a federal government, which later on shall establish an independent Islamic state,” said Abdul.
He doubted whether the MILF could force members who owned guns would surrender them during the normalization process.
“They need it for protection. Among Muslims, there are rido [clan wars],” Abdul said.
Reynaldo Tubelonia, Midsayap Comelec officer, said that teachers lined up at the municipal treasurer’s office as early as 3:00 a.m Wednesday to get the election materials.
The distribution started at 4:00 a.m. The teachers immediately went to their assigned polling centers escorted by the military and police, he said.
By noon, some complaints that reached their office included missing names of voters, he said.
Their names might have been taken off the voters’ list either because hey had noted voted twice in a row or because they had double registration, Tubelonia said.
In Camp Rajamuda, the third largest MILF camp straddling Pikit in North Cotabato and Pagalungan in Maguindanao, village officials predicted that the “yes” votes would win handily.
“Most of us here are voting yes for inclusion,” said Samama Samok, a member of the Barangay Rajamuda Council of Pikit town.
“If we are included in the BARMM, our children will have a brighter future because they can go to school in an atmosphere of peace,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, several journalists went to Barangay Rajamuda. Before reaching the village proper from the highway, two checkpoints were seen manned by the BIAF.
In the village, some men, supposedly BIAF members, openly brandished their M-16 and M-14 rifles. /atm
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