The January 21 plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law will certainly rank as one of the most peaceful political exercises in recent Bangsamoro history. There were many reports of violence but none approximating the magnitude or body count in previous political competitions.
Many observers claim that a plebiscite normally induces lower levels of violence in contrast to local elections because rivalries are less intense. There were many accounts of the festive atmosphere that accompanied the voting at the precinct level.
From January 19 to 21, International Alert Philippines’s SMS-based Critical Events Monitoring System (CEMS), gathered reports of 56 incidents of tensions and violence in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Cotabato City, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. Forty-five of these happened on January 21, the day of the plebiscite.
These reports include the grenade explosions near the residence of Maguindanao Municipal Trial Court Judge Angelito Rasalan on the eve of the Bangsamoro plebiscite, a gun attack at the house of Bangsamoro Transition Commission member Atty. Omar Sema in Cotabato City, and the detonation of a grenade found 20 meters from the Cotabato City National High School – Rojas site by the Philippine National Police explosive ordnance disposal unit.
There were three deaths caused by violent incidents in the region within this period – one from a shooting incident in Tubaran, Lanao del Sur and two from another in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. There were no casualties in the gun attack that happened at Rosary Heights in Cotabato City.
Many cases of voter harassment were received by the system, as well as tensions caused by the delays in the voting process and complaints of disenfranchisement. At least two scuffles erupted in polling precincts in Cotabato City as mobs turned their ire against alleged fake poll watchers.
Meanwhile, voting was exceptionally peaceful in high-conflict areas such as Mamasapano and in the Iranun Corridor in Maguindanao. Records from the island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were unremarkable with cases of quarrels in precincts among voters and election officials.
International Alert’s CEMS is run by a 60-strong force of field incident reporters from its youth and women early response network. CEMS monitors tensions and violence that may arise in the BOL plebiscite and coordinates prompt response to emergencies and potential flashpoints.
International Alert has submitted the CEMS report to the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and to human rights organizations and election monitors. A post-plebiscite bulletin will be released in January 24.
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