ALL SET. Commission on Elections (Comelec) workers and volunteers from the Bangsamoro Free Election Movement (BFEM) inspect election paraphernalia that arrived at Maguindanao provincial capitol in Buluan, Maguindanao, ahead of the Sept. 17 plebiscite on the proposed split of Maguindanao province. Comelec election supervisor Udtog Tago says Monday (Sept. 12, 2022) they are ready for the referendum, as the National Movement for Free Elections (inset) posted a reminder (inset upper left) for the upcoming political exercise. (Photos courtesy of Namfrel and BFEM)

COTABATO CITY –  The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has expressed readiness for the Sept. 17 plebiscite that will ratify or reject a law dividing Maguindanao province into two.

Lawyer Udtog Tago, the Maguindanao election supervisor, said Monday that it's "all systems go" as election materials and official ballots “are already in town.”

“We are ready, poll officials and deputies are all ready for Saturday,” Tago said, adding that all election supplies and documents for the Sept. 17 plebiscite are kept at the Maguindanao provincial capitol in Buluan, Maguindanao.

Tago’s pronouncement came amid calls by a non-government organization to delay the plebiscite for at least two months.

“That is for Congress to decide, as far as we are concerned, we are all set for the referendum,” Tago said when asked to comment on the appeal made by Interfaith for Peace and Clean Election (IM4PEACE) to move the political exercises until November.

IM4PEACE coordinator Goldy Omelio said their group, as an election watchdog, made the call to further update the people on the referendum.

“This is to allow a massive information drive to educate the people why a plebiscite is necessary, what are the pros and cons,” she said.

Omelio said a consultation spearheaded by her group showed that the majority of the residents were unaware of the Sept. 17 balloting.

No group has so far campaigned for a “no” vote while elected local officials are busy campaigning for the “yes” vote.

A total of 939,011 registered voters for Maguindanao are expected to come out and vote for the plebiscite.

Comelec Chairperson George Erwin M. Garcia said in a recent security meeting here said that the poll body is expecting at least 80 percent turnout of voters on balloting day.

The plebiscite will determine whether the people of Maguindanao will accept Republic Act No. 11550, a law that will split the province’s 36 towns to create Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur.

If ratified, Maguindanao del Norte will have Datu Odin Sinsuat town as its capital and Maguindanao del Sur will retain Buluan town for its provincial seat.

Maguindanao del Norte will be composed of the towns that currently belonged to Maguindanao's first congressional district while Maguindanao del Sur will comprise towns in the province's second district.

Once approved, Governor Mariam Mangudadatu would serve as the provincial chief executive of Maguindanao del Sur while Vice Governor Ainee Sinsuat would automatically become governor of Maguindanao del Norte.

Go out and vote

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Cotabato on Monday called on the people of Maguindanao to participate in the plebiscite.

Cotabato Archbishop Angelito Lampon said the participation of the people of Maguindanao is important to ensure the honest results of the plebiscite and reflect the true wishes of the community.

"My message is, go out and participate for the sake of a credible and democratic division of North and South Maguindanao,” he said in an interview over Church-run Radio Veritas.

He added that although the plebiscite can only be considered a formality due to the lack of clear opposition to the division of the province, it is still important for the people to share the position and vision for Maguindanao.

The archbishop noted that once the division of the province is ratified, the next step to watch out for is the process of selecting or electing new leaders of the divided province of Maguindanao.

"After the division of Maguindanao that is more dangerous. Who will be the next set of leaders? Will they be elected or appointed?” he said.

At the same time, Lampo is hoping that the plebiscite will be peaceful.

"BARMM Comelec and PNP have designated PNP check points all over Maguindanao province. The plebiscite will be peaceful,” he said.

Under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Cotabato are the provinces of Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao.

The province of Maguindanao has 939,011 registered voters. (PNA)