Security alert in deadly Philippine elections
By Jason Gutierrez, AFPMANILA--Police and troops were on high alert across the Philippines on Monday as millions of voters went to the polls to choose village leaders, with 22 people killed in pre-election violence.
October 29, 2013, 12:22 am TWN
Poll officials said about 336,000 village chief and councilor posts were up for grabs in the country's dynamic but corrupt brand of democracy, where politicians are infamous for employing private armies to kill or intimidate rivals.
While villages are the smallest government units, they are hotly contested because they allow major political parties to cultivate a grassroots network and widen their support base.
“There has been violence due to intense political rivalry, with emotions running high on the ground between rivals,” national police spokesman Reuben Theodore Sindac told AFP.
He said 22 people had been killed in the four-week run-up to the polls, half of them incumbent politicians running for re-election.
The latest reported fatality was the brother of a candidate for village chief, who was gunned down Sunday on Basilan, a violence-plagued island in the south of the country that is a stronghold of Islamic militants.
Twenty-seven other people were hurt in election-related violence across the country, including two policeman and two election officers who were ambushed by unidentified gunmen in the central island province of Masbate on Sunday.
Despite efforts by President Benigno Aquino to curb the power of political warlords and their private armies, Sindac said this year's violence was worse than the last village polls in 2010, when 15 people were killed.
“We have intensified our efforts to protect the security of everyone,” Sindac said.
The armed forces deployed about 6,000 soldiers to four provinces in the restive southern region of Mindanao that were perennial “hot spots” of violence, said regional military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso.
Still, this did not deter armed supporters of some candidates from carrying out “isolated cases of intimidation and coercion of voters,” he said.
He said troops were particularly watching a remote village in the town of Buldon, where 17 rivals were vying for the single post of village chief.
“Unidentified gunmen razed to the ground the elementary school there that was to serve as a polling precinct,” Hermoso said.
“But voting still continued elsewhere, so they instead let off rounds of gunfire to scare off voters today.”
He said troops gave chase but the suspects escaped.
Police were also guarding polling booths across the country.