PLEBISCITE PRESSCON. Palawan plebiscite commissioner-in-charge, Antonio Kho Jr., of the Commission on Elections during the press conference of the election body on Thursday (March 11, 2021) at the provincial capitol. Election officials urged the residents of 23 municipalities in Palawan to go out and vote in the March 13 plebiscite. (Photo courtesy of the Palawan PIO)

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan - Election officials are urging the residents of 23 municipalities in Palawan on Thursday to go out and vote in the March 13 plebiscite that will decide whether the province should be split into three separate government units amid expectations that there will be a voter low turnout.

Palawan plebiscite commissioner-in-charge Antonio Kho Jr. of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said in a press conference at the VJR Hall of the Provincial Capitol in Puerto Princesa City that "it is all systems go" for the plebiscite that will decide if the province will be divided into Palawan del Sur, Palawan del Norte, and Palawan Oriental.

"It's all systems go for this plebiscite. Our people all over [the province] of Palawan are ready to conduct this plebiscite," Kho said, adding that materials for the coming referendum have already been delivered except for Kalayaan.

"Please convince [the voters] to participate in the plebiscite this Saturday. And please, to our voters, pumunta nang maaga para maiwasan ang crowding sa precincts and i-check agad sa voters list ang names ninyo. Ito ay para magkapagdesisyon sila sa future nila (go early to avoid crowding in precincts and check your names immediately in the voters' list. This is to decide your future)," Kho added.

For Kalayaan, he said the plebiscite paraphernalia will be delivered on March 12.

“We have a contingency plan. A boat will ferry the ballots tomorrow,” he said.

The poll body also asked Palawan residents to be “patient” as the plebiscite will be conducted manually, expecting the results to be tallied by March 16.

“After the polls closed, magbibilang sila manually. Dadalhin pa ‘yong balota physically sa canvassing sa munisipyo (... they will count manually. The ballots will be canvassed physically in the municipal building),” said Kho, explaining the difference with the previous 2019 local elections where election returns were sent to the board of canvassers “in just one press of a finger”.

An official total of 490,639 registered voters, with 2,959 clustered precincts and 487 voting centers, based on October 21, 2019, Comelec data, are expected to vote on either “Yes” or “No” during the Palawan plebiscite.

Comelec previously said they were expecting low voter turnout, with the highest recorded turnout for plebiscite only at 47 percent.

However, the voter turnout is “not necessary for the validity of the results” of the plebiscite, pointing out that only a majority vote will determine whether Palawan will become three provinces. (PNA)