(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Government officials, the military and even election officials allegedly conspired with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ahead of a January 21 referendum to ensure Cotabato City would fall under the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm), Cotabato City Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani Sayadi claimed yesterday.
Sayadi told Manila Times the MILF, which secured wider autonomy under a 2014 peace deal and is expected to lead the Barmm, sent 20,000 men to polling places across the city and encountered no resistance from the military.
Sayadi said the MILF was bent on taking control of Cotabato City through the Barmm because it was the only progressive city within the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but was not part of it.
Thus, Cotabato City needed to vote during the January 21 plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) if it wanted to join the Barmm. The 'Yes vote won, with 36,682 votes, versus 24,994 'No votes.
'They have plans of making it as the capital of Barmm, Sayadi said. 'They want Cotabato City because compared to other cities we have the biggest malls, the biggest internal revenue allotment (share of national government tax collections), and the city is multi-awarded, she alleged. Sayadi said the presence of MILF men, some in uniform and with firearms, resulted in the massive disenfranchisement of registered voters.
'There was really a conspiracy (among the members of the plebiscite committee or board of election inspectors, the military and the police). Registered voters were not able to vote because they were being harassed and intimidated by members of the MILF, Sayadi claimed.
'We're talking here of approximately 20,000 MILF members inside Cotabato City. They were already in Cotabato three days before the January 21 plebiscite, she added.
The mayor also alleged that on the eve of the plebiscite, she was in constant communication with military officials, who, she said, assured her that the military had a standing order to disperse the MILF members.
'They (military) told me that they will remove the MILF around polling centres, and they will no longer be there in the morning. So there's nothing to worry. I have a lot of text messages to Gen. (Cirilito) Sobejana (military commander) and his answers were always ‘noted, noted, copy,' but no corresponding action, she further said. On the day of the plebiscite, 24 of the 37 village chiefs were instructed to go to the headquarters of the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division to attend a seminar on what is prohibited on election day.
But they were practically detained and were only released, Sayadi said, when she called the commanding officers to release them.
The series of events, the mayor stressed, only proved that events that transpired in Cotabato City were all 'preplanned.
'Even before that, Presidential Peace Adviser retired general Carlito Galvez told me that Cotabato City would be placed under Comelec control. It seems that General Galvez has already made a plan, she added.
She also pointed out that poll workers who replaced teachers who had failed to report for poll duties because of threats, were not registered voters of Cotabato City and not government teachers. They were confirmed sympathisers and supporters of the BOL, Sayadi said.
Even the Commission on Elections, she pointed out, refused to furnish her the copies of certified certificates of canvass from Cotabato City.
'There was really a conspiracy, she said.
The mayor said the MILF also did it in Isabela City and Lanao del Sur, but did not succeed because there were only a few members of the MILF there, unlike in Cotabato City, which was only an hour away from Camp Darapanan, the headquarters of the MILF.
She admitted getting information prior to the MILF's action, but said she felt confident that nothing would happen because of the assurances given to her by the military.
'If I was only told by the military that they would not take action on the presence of MILF, we could have prepared, she added.