Voters troop to Bangsamoro poll precincts despite reported Lanao del Norte blasts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 6) — Voters in Lanao del Norte trooped to polling precincts Wednesday despite a number of explosions ahead of the historic Bangsamoro plebiscite.

As the second round of the plebiscite wrapped up, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it considers a "60% voter turnout high" in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato.

"Regarding voter turnout, we consider a 60% voter turnout high already considering that we have voters who are from areas not asking for inclusion in the BARMM but will need to consent to the inclusion of the other areas in their municipality or province," Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas said.

Four explosions took place in Mindanao on Tuesday-- the day before voters were to decide on additional areas under the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

The first happened along a road in Talayan, Maguindanao, while the next two were reported in the towns of Kauswagan and Lala in Lanao del Norte late Tuesday afternoon.

The latest explosion was in Sultan Naga Dimaporo, also in Lanao del Norte, at around 10 p.m. Tuesday.

No deaths or casualties were reported.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the blasts could have been "scare tactics" of some groups ahead of the plebiscite.

"Exactly, that's how we see it (that they were only meant to sow fear). I think most of the authorities who would like to take it objectively is that they would like to look at it as a mere statement of sorts to discourage those who are supposed to cast their votes to do so," AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgardo Arevalo told CNN Philippines.

"These are abnormal incidents. This by and large is a sort of terrorism in itself. So we should not allow terrorism to thrive in our communities," he added.

While investigation is ongoing, Arevalo assured residents that security measures will be strengthened.

"We cannot, at this point, discount that possibility because investigations are still ongoing. From there, we'll be having some traces as to who were behind these blasts," Arevalo said.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde said authorities are monitoring persons of interests.

Malacañang on Wednesday said "no amount of bombing or terroristic act will scare, intimidate nor threaten" the voters in the area.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) earlier denied it had a hand in the bombings, despite claims of Lanao del Norte Governor Imelda Dimaporo that the rebel group was behind these.

Polling precincts closed at 3 p.m. Both the military and Comelec said they have not received reports of major untoward incidents during the plebiscite.

Initial counting of votes has begun in the plebiscite areas. After the tallying, returns will then be transmitted to the municipal board of canvassers. The municipal canvass will then be submitted to the National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers at the Comelec headquarters in Manila.

The poll body said it estimates results to be released in four days.

Comelec 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.

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.