A day after the YES vote won the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in Cotabato City, the lawyers of City Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi began preparing documents and other pieces of evidence for the multiple charges that they are about to file before the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).
The camp of Mayor Sayadi, herself a lawyer, claimed that cases of harassments, cheating, and other irregulations, have been reported by watchers and voters in the city.
“The conduct of the plebiscite was generally peaceful, as reported by the Philippine National Police (PNP), but events inside several polling places proved otherwise,” the mayor’s camp claimed in a press release.
“There were polling places where watchers reported of harassments done against them,” Sayadi’s press statement said.
“They were allegedly not allowed inside the classrooms even though they have already presented their identification cards and appointments,” it said.
At the Cotabato City Central Pilot Elementary School, two of the watchers of the NO vote were reportedly beaten up by dozens of supporters of the BOL after they refused to leave their posts while the voting was still on-going. In other schools, there were also reports that some voters were not able to cast their votes because their names were missing from the list, the statement added.
“All of these complaints were recorded by the mayor’s group of lawyers and will be used as evidences to charges that they will be filing,” said the press statement.
“Because of the clamor of these people who were violated during the plebiscite, she (Mayor Sayadi) had to stand up once more for them and help them uphold their rights to the proper authorities,” it said.
“It makes me proud that despite all of the threats and the blatant intimidation that the voters of Cotabato City has experienced before and during the plebiscite, they still went to their respective polling precincts and casted their votes. But what was truly unacceptable was the cheating and the harassments that were happening that caused a lot of commotions and instilled fear among the residents. Sana kung talagang para sila sa kapayapaan ay ipinakita man lang nila ito at hindi sila nag-show of force na ilang daan mga tao nila ang ipinadala sa bawat presinto para lang bantayan at takutin ang mga poll watchers at ang mga botante”, Mayor Guiani-Sayadi was quoted as saying.
The mayor also questioned the presence of the thousands of BOL supporters who, according to the COMELEC and the MILF, were only in the city to observe the plebiscite. These people started to flock to the city a few days before the plebiscite and were deployed to all the polling places last January 21.
She believed their presence did more bad than good as they were the ones who were intimidating and harassing some voters. She also strongly noted that most of these “observers” were not residents of Cotabato City.
“Why do they have to allow outsiders to flock inside polling places and harass voters if they were confident that they will win? If they were really sincere in their cause, they should not have done that because it only instilled more fear in our constituents which made the results of the plebiscite more questionable”, she added.
According to the mayor, because of her strong stand against the inclusion of Cotabato City in the proposed BARMM, she has been the subject of bashing and ridicule on social media. “She was even receiving threats from people who were strong supporters of the BOL,”it said, adding that fake accounts and internet trolls have been spreading fake news and were even attacking whoever defended the mayor and her statements.
“But amidst all of these,” Mayor Guiani-Sayadi’s camp remained calm, “and she had even expressed earlier that whatever vote wins in Cotabato City, the people will accept it and will abide by it in spite of all the harassments that she had been receiving,” the press release said.
But because of the alleged cheating and other violations that were committed during the conduct of the plebiscite, the lady chief executive said that she had to make necessary actions especially that she has also personally witnessed an incident in her own polling precinct.
“My family has been very concerned about my safety but my commitment to my people is stronger than any fear. You can make fun of me and trample on my rights. But you can never do that to my people. It is my duty as their leader to protect them at all cost”, Mayor Guiani-Sayadi added.
She, however, also challenged the future leaders of the BARMM. She said they would have to prove that the people have not misplaced their trust in the new government and that their hopes for lasting peace and development must not be put in vain.