(PNA file photo by Annabel Consuelo J Petinglay)

MANILA – The Philippine National Police (PNP) is fine-tuning security measures and has coordinated with the military and other law enforcement agencies for the orderly conduct of the Maguindanao plebiscite on September 17.

Other needed assets will be on standby for rapid response, according to PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr.

Voters in 36 municipalities will vote for or against the division of Maguindanao into two provinces, to be known as Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte.

The capital of Maguindanao del Norte will be Datu Odin Sinsuat town while Buluan, the current capital of the province, will be the government center of Maguindanao del Sur.

“The PNP has committed to heighten security measures wherein more checkpoints will be placed in strategic areas to boost police visibility. We also have to make sure that minimum public health standard is observed as this will happen at the middle of the pandemic,” Azurin said in a statement on Sunday.

“Our role is vital in providing security coverage in the transport or movement of plebiscite equipment, documents and supplies," he added.

Azurin said PNP‘s role in similar election-related activities has been proven effective in past electoral exercises.

“We just have to make sure that we are always on top of the situation so we can readily execute contingencies when original plan won’t work. I trust in the capabilities of our police officers whose pursuit is to provide a clean, honest, and safe plebiscite,” said Azurin.

A gun ban is in effect during the election period from August 16 to September 24 under Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution No. 10797.

The plebiscite should have been held in September last year, according to Republic Act No. 11550 which was signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte on May 27, 2021, but was reset to concentrate with preparations for the May 9 national and local elections.

‘Go out and vote’

Earlier, Comelec Chair George Garcia said he is expecting an 80-percent turnout of voters for the plebiscite.

“To all Maguindanaons go out and vote, this is for your future. This is not for us, this is not for anybody but you and your future,” Garcia said.

As of the May 2022 polls, Maguindanao has 939,011 registered voters out of its estimated 1.7 million population.

Garcia asked Comelec officials and workers to be united as they also prepare for the September 3 plebiscite in Calaca, Batangas and the December 5 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

The Batangas plebiscite seeks to ratify Calaca into a component city.

"I am calling for unity in performance of our duty. Service to the nation is never a mistake. It is of the highest honor,” Garcia said in a statement over the weekend. “I encourage the Comelec employees to always be united and dedicated in our service to the nation." (With a report from Ferdinand Patinio/PNA)