Comelec introduces changes to ballot for upcoming Bangsamoro plebiscite

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Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez (File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Changes to the ballot for the Bangsamoro plebiscite have been introduced - days before the plebiscite takes place.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) explained Monday the revisions were made to make the ballot clearer.

Residents of Isabela City and Cotabato City will now only have to vote on one question: whether they will be included in the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Both areas were previously going to vote on whether they are for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Isabela City is currently part of the Zamboanga Peninsula Region.

Voters in Basilan, meanwhile, will have to answer two questions: the inclusion of Isabela City in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, and the ratification of the BOL.

Areas under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will only be asked about the BOL's ratification.

The Comelec is reminding voters that only written "yes" or "no" answer, or its equivalent in the local dialect will be counted. Check and X marks will not be considered.

"It will instead be considered as a sign of desistance i [like] abstention... A check and X marks are easy to manufacture so you can make lots and lots of fake ballots just repeating just the same, and it will be very difficult to spot whether spurious ballot have been produced," said Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez.

The BOL plebiscite will happen on January 21 and February 6.

The first date will be for ARMM, Isabela City and Cotabato City.

Lanao del Norte — with the exception of Iligan City — and North Cotabato will vote on February 6 if the BOL is ratified.

READ: The Bangsamoro Organic Law: Everything you need to know

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to help the election body during the BOL plebiscite.

"What that means is that the PNP will be available to us, both their personnel and their equipment and resources in case we should need it," Jimenez said on January 11.

If the BOL is ratified, then another plebiscite for the inclusion of towns and barangays in the BARMM.

Security preparations for the elections are underway, and the police have yet to approve requests for close-in security for foreign observers. No hotspots have been determined, but authorities are keeping an eye on Cotabato City following an explosion on New Year's Eve that killed two people.

READ: Daraga, Cotabato City among areas considered to be placed under Comelec control