Several North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte towns vote in second round of Bangsamoro plebiscite

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 6) — The provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato are taking part in a plebiscite Wednesday to determine if select towns and villages in their areas will be included in the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson James Jimenez said all polling precincts in the towns' provinces have been opened, as of 8:30 a.m. He added the series of bombings the day before the plebiscite has not affected the voter turnout in the 13 towns.

"The earliest voters were women and senior citizens, even. So the excitement is palpable and maybe the tension, while it's there, is not dampening their enthusiasm," he told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Residents of Lanao del Norte, except Iligan City, will be asked if they agree to include the towns of Tagoloan, Balo-i, Pantar, Munai, Tangcal and Nunungan in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Meanwhile, seven North Cotabato towns — Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Tulunan — will also decide if they allow 67 of their barangays (villages) to separate and be part of the BARMM.

Voters of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato will also have to vote if they are willing to let go of these areas.

Comelec said it expects around 640,000 residents to participate in the second referendum, which will take place from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m It estimated results to be released four days after the plebiscite.

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez on Tuesday said the second plebiscite will be "less of an emotional issue," as the Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is already ratified.

"It's less of an emotional issue and more of a practical issue. For the people on the ground. The question is, 'Will it be better for us if we are part of this new entity, or if we just remain where we are?'" Jimenez said in a press briefing.

The poll body on January 25 announced the ratification of BOL four days after 1,540,017 residents in the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) voted "yes" to the creation of the entity.

Cotabato City, which is not an official part of ARMM, will also be part of the new Bangsamoro region after majority of its residents cast their votes in favor of inclusion.

Isabela City in Basilan, however, rejected to be part of the new region.

When the areas covered by the BARMM are established, President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to appoint members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which will include incumbent officials of the regional government.

The BTA will have legislative and executive powers during the transition period. It will be considered the Bangsamoro government during the transition and will have exclusive powers over budgeting, justice, agriculture, human rights and tourism, among others.