Campaign for local posts begins, Comelec bracing for more violence
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is bracing for a rise in violence and poll infractions as the 45-day campaign period for local races begins Friday.
Poll officials said they expect election-related violence to increase, particularly with the country’s first fully computerized polls.
“There is that possibility so we have to be doubly vigilant,” said poll commissioner Rene Sarmiento, noting that local elections in the Philippines are often bitter and violent, with families often turning against each other.
“Politics is thicker than water in the elections,” the commissioner added.
Up for grabs in the May 10 elections are 222 seats in the House of Representatives; 80 each for governors and vice governors; 762 provincial board members; 120 each for city mayors and vice mayors; 1,514 each for municipal mayors and vice mayors; 1,346 for city councilors; and 12,116 for municipal councilors.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said that the violence during elections have historically come from local contests.
“People are more hot-headed in local politics,” he said.
Jimenez noted that the automation process could increase election-related killings and harassment as politicians realize that they cannot subvert the system to manipulate the vote in their favor.
“There’s that remote and perverse possibility that automation might actually contribute to the slight increase in election violence. The tendency is to try to pre-empt the elections by just offing your opponent, killing your opponent or, at least, hurting them or whatever,” he said.
Sarmiento also called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to be serious in eliminating private armed groups.
Citing a police report to the poll body, Sarmiento said there are 43 verified partisan armed groups and 25 unconfirmed ones scattered throughout the country.
As of February, the PNP said 35 percent of the country’s 1,634 towns and cities have seen election-related violence.
The poll body has yet to put any town or province under Comelec control because of excessive violence.
The Comelec has not received any petition to place an area under its control, Sarmiento said, adding that concerned parties have to file a petition with the Comelec to start the process.
Sarmiento urged candidates to follow the election laws on campaign spending, advertising and other campaign activities. They should familiarize themselves with the rules on posters and streamers to avoid complaints, he said.
Jimenez noted that local candidates are the main offenders of the rules on the posting of streamers and posters.
Meanwhile, the PNP has gone on heightened alert and would remain in that status until June 9 to foil election-related violence and double its efforts against private armed groups, officials said.
To implement the gun ban imposed by the Comelec, more than 50,000 police officers have been deployed in 3,500 checkpoints across the country, said PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina.
But the entire Mindanao, including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), remain on full alert, he said.
The Zamboanga peninsula, Northern Mindanao, the Davao provinces, Socsargen and the National Capital Region have been on full alert since July “because of the series of bombings that happened there,” Espina said.
In a heightened alert status, the police would be on a round-the-clock lookout for private armed groups it earlier identified “so we can prevent their plans of conducting criminal activities against rival candidates,” Espina said.
The PNP has created special task groups to monitor 95 private armies reportedly operating in provinces identified as “election hot spots” in anticipation of a possible escalation of election-related violence when the local campaign season starts. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy