TENSION-FILLED Vote manipulations, threats, disenfranchisement mar Cotabato BOL plebiscite

This 17-year old ‘flying voter’, shown here interviewed by reporters, was caught and beaten up by some residents who cast their votes in Cotabato City during Monday’s tension-filled Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite. The incident was one of many reported irregularities in Cotabato City. Armando Fenequito Jr.

COTABATO CITY — Tension marred Monday’s plebiscite of the Bangasamoro Organic Law (BOL) after a voter complained that a teacher acting as election officer changed her vote.

The incident happened inside a polling center in Barangay Poblacion 1 at the Cotabato City Institute. Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Siyadi, who was inside the center to cast her vote, told reporters in an interview that she received a complaint from a certain Bella Roldan against a teacher who served as member of the plebiscite committee.

The mayor presented the complainant to reporters and asked her to narrate the incident.

Roldan alleged that the teacher identified as Bai Malejah Sulvan changed her vote from NO to YES without her consent. Roldan said she reiterated that her vote was NO but Sulvan allegedly ignored her and asked her to just drop the ballot to the ballot box.

After the mayor presented Roldan, she escorted the complainant to the precinct were Sulvan served. In the ensuing confrontation, Sulvan denied the allegation of Roldan against her and explained that she only asked the voter if she was unable to write. Roldan’s protestation came after she noticed Sulvan allegedly made alterations to her ballot. 

Guiani told Sulvan that as election officer she is not supposed to meddle in the poll process because election officers should be neutral. Without categorically admitting to the irregularity, Sulvan apologized and proposed that she will just exchange her vote to the supposed vote of Roldan once she makes her turn to vote.

The mayor said the case will be pursued. She explained that teachers serving in the plebiscite have been briefed during seminars leading up to Monday’s voting.

While the confrontation was still ongoing, a commotion happened outside the precinct after some voters caught an alleged flying voter.

The suspect, a 17-year-old boy, was mauled by some people but Guiani intervened and insisted that the suspect should be turned-over to the police.

When asked why he went to the said polling area, the suspect admitted that he was told to vote in the area by a certain Ustadz Nasser. He did not elaborate. The mayor recovered from the suspect some identification cards allegedly issued by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Guiani immediately asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to look into the incident and act on it.

The incidents came at the heels of military disposal bomb experts disarming a live hand grenade found near the gate of a public school serving as one of the polling centers for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Senior Supt. Michael Lebanan, city police director, said the grenade, found sans its safety lever and pin, was discovered by a store owner near the gate of the Roxas National High School along Barangay Rosary Heights 12 in Cotabato City at about 5:45 a.m.

“Members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team quickly conducted a ‘blast-on-site’ strategy to rid off the grenade,” Lebanan said.

Guiani likewise claimed that there are more than 90 teachers who were supposed to serve as members of plebiscite committee were not able to perform their duties after reportedly receiving threats via text messages. Policemen trained to perform as election officers took the place of over 60 teachers, who refused to show up in their assigned voting centers for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, due to alleged threats on their lives.

Lawyer Ernie Palanan, Maguindanao election supervisor, which includes Cotabato City as his area of supervision, said the teachers have earlier received threats via text messages. 

In other parts of the city’s 37 villages, disenfranchisement of voters, as in the past, remained a perennial problem. (With reports from PNA)