Duty over fear: The youth volunteering to guard the Bangsamoro ballot

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – It is a day before the Bangsamoro plebiscite and Manal Sugadol carefully studies a list of voting places. Around her, several take their seats until the room is filled with paralegals who have volunteered to guard the historic vote to create the Bangsomoro region on Monday, January 21.

Sugadol, 26, said it is the first time for her to be a poll watcher. Past elections did not appeal to her but this, she said, is different. Rather than keeping watch over the votes for a lone official, Sugadol said she will be keeping watch for the people.

Along with her friends, Sugadol professed that it is their new jihad to protect the future Bangsamoro Autonomous Region that the plebiscite may create.

"Sa BOL, lahat kami kabahagi, unlike sa mga eleksyon na may color na involved. Personalan kasi ang eleksyon kasi iisang tao o pamilya lang 'yung involved...unlike sa BOL na alam namin kasama kami. Colorless kami at alam namin na para sa amin 'yung ginagawa namin, hindi para sa isang tao, hindi para sa isang clan lang," she said.

(We're part of the BOL, unlike in typical elections where there are colors [of politicians] involved. Elections are personal because only one person or family is involved…unlike the BOL where we know we are involved. We're colorless and we know that what we're doing is for us, not just for one person or one clan.)

For Shahara Abo, 37, it is also a way of remembering her history.

Abo said Monday's vote is for relatives who had struggled for independence for decades. Protecting the ballot, she said, is now her duty.

Sofia Tomacruz reports. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.