The poll body is ready for the Palawan plebiscite on Saturday, March 13, a “sort of dry-run” for the 2022 national elections to determine COMELEC’s capability in holding elections during a pandemic.

It’s an “all systems go”, said COMELEC Commissioner Antonio T. Kho Jr., in a press conference held by the poll body on Thursday morning at the VJR Hall in Provincial Capitol Complex in this city.

This, despite the ballots still being undelivered for Kalayaan town voters at the West Philippines Sea.

“We have a contingency plan. A boat will ferry the ballots tomorrow,” Kho added.

So far, no “untoward incident” was reported according to Atty. Urbano C. Arlando, provincial election supervisor, and added that they remain positive that the plebiscite will be peaceful until the results were conducted.

Police Lieutenant Col. June R. Rian, spokesperson of the Palawan Provincial Police Office (PPO), said there were “no hotspots” in the province despite the heated campaign between the proponents and the oppositors that started since February 11.

On allegations of prolific vote-buying made by Cynthia Sumagaysay-Del Rosario, lead campaigner for One Palawan Movement, lawyer Christian Jay Cojamco, head of the legal of Partidong Pagbabago ng Palawan (PPP) that is backing the split, dismissed it and dared Del Rosario to show evidence to back the allegation.

In Culion town, parish priest Rev. Fr. Roderick Yap Caabay, an opposition of the Palawan three-way split, claimed “No to Division” campaign materials were destroyed by certain individuals.

“Sa bayan ng Culion, sapilitang tinanggal ang tarpaulin ng ‘No to Division’ sa loob mismo ng bakuran ng mga simbahan,” said ni Fr. Caabay.

The Palawan plebiscite, ratifying Republic Act 11259, or the law dividing into three provinces namely Palawan Del Norte, Palawan Del Sur, and Palawan Oriental, is set on Saturday, with the polls opening at 7 a.m., running until 3 p.m.

The poll body also asked the Palawan residents to be “patient” as the plebiscite will be conducted manually, expecting the results to be tallied by March 16.

“After the polls closed, magbibilang sila manually. Dadalhin pa ‘yong balota physically sa canvassing sa munisipyo,” said Kho, explaining the difference with the previous 2019 local elections where election returns were sent to the board of canvassers “in just one press of a finger”.

An official total of 490,639 registered voters, with 2,959 clustered precincts and 487 voting centers, based on October 21, 2019 COMELEC data, are expected to vote on either “Yes” or “No” during the Palawan plebiscite on Saturday.

COMELEC previously said they were expecting low voter turnout, with highest recorded turnout for plebiscite only at 47 percent. However, the voter turnout is “not necessary for the validity of the results” of the plebiscite, pointing out that only a majority vote will determine whether Palawan will become three provinces.

The provincial board of canvassers will convene at 6 p.m. on March 13.

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