MANILA, Philippines – With the plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) fast approaching, both the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) have released questions for participating voters.
Answers to these questions will determine whether or not the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will be created and which territories will be included in the proposed new region.
The BOL seeks to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and replace it with the BARMM, which would have greater fiscal autonomy, a regional government, parliament, and justice system.
It is the culmination of a peace deal signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and past administrations, and builds upon the gains of previous Moro peace agreements since the 1970s. (READ: After Bangsamoro law, a bright yet bumpy path to peace)
Both the BTC and Comelec urged voters to familiarize themselves with the questions and voting instructions to ensure their ballots are counted and remain valid.
How to properly indicate one’s vote on the ballot: Based on Comelec Resolution 10464, only answers in the form of “yes” or “no,” “oo” o “hindi,” or corresponding equivalents of other dialects will be counted as valid votes.
Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said that a “✓” (check) or “x” mark will not be considered as “yes” or “no” votes. Instead, these will be counted as an abstention.
“The ballot will be voted on but there will be no outcome from the ballot,” Jimenez said during a press briefing Monday, January 14.
Voters should make sure no lines, circles, “x,” or other marks are left on any part of the ballots as these would invalidate them.
Questions to be asked per area
The first voting day will be on January 21, in the ARMM, Cotabato City, and Isabela City.
Voters will be asked questions which will have corresponding translations in Arabic. Sample images of the ballot are also posted below:
Territories in the ARMM, including Lanao del Sur, Maguindano, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi will be asked only one question:
Meanwhile, the province of Basilan will be asked the following two questions:
Isabela City and North Cotabato will both be asked one question on the inclusion of their cities in the BARMM.
If the majority of voters in ARMM, Cotabato City, and Isabela City vote to create the BARMM, a second voting on February 6 will be held.
This will happen in Lanao del Norte – except Iligan City – and North Cotabato, as well as in LGUs that petitioned to be included. (READ: Comelec approves petitions of 20 LGUs to join Bangsamoro plebiscite)
They will be asked the following questions:
If territories included in the January 21 plebiscite vote "no," Jimenez said it is possible the voting on February 6 may no longer take place.
He also said, "If the 'no' vote wins on January 21, the weight of legal opinion is, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region might not even be created at all. If it is not created at all, again, it stands to reason that there might not even be [need] to ask...these groups to be included..." Because, he added, it would be unclear what they would be a part of.