ELECTIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES:
Presidential elections are held every six years. The last one was in 2010. The next one is in 2016. Congress, Senate and local elections are held in the years of presidential elections and three years before and after them. During the 2010 election around 50 million voters chose a president and 18,000 national and local officials.
Voter participation is typically around 70 percent to 85 percent. There were 43 million eligible voters in 2004; 36.1 million in 2001; and 34 million in 1998. Overseas Filipinos were allowed to vote in presidential elections for the first time in 2004. Voting rates are high in national elections despite obstacles such as difficult transportation, the need to write out the names of all candidates in longhand, and, occasionally, the threat of violence. Filipinos enjoy and expect elections so much that even Ferdinand Marcos dared not completely deny them this outlet. Instead, he changed the rules to rig the elections in his favor.
The voting age is 18 in the Philippines. Voters typically have to endure long lines, rain and heat. Once inside the polling station they look for their name and number on registration lists, obtain a ballot from a poll worker and write by hand the names of the 20 or so candidates they are voting for in different offices. Voting forms are sometime called the world's longest and people routinely wait 45 minutes in line for their turn. Voters are stamped with indelible ink to keep them from voting twice.
Philippine elections are characterized by lots of candidates and lots of positions. There were 17,000 electoral positions in the 1998 election. More than 800,000 candidates vied for chairmanships and other posts in urban and rural villages, locally called barangays— the Philippines’ smallest political units—in 2013. Voters are required to write the name of their preferred candidates. They can write their first names, last names or their nicknames. This one reason why candidates promote short nicknames like "Cory" Aquino or "Erap" Estrada.
Often weeks pass before the official election results are officials. Counting takes so long because much of it is done by hand. It took five weeks before Ramos was declared the winner of the presidential election in 1992. It took six weeks before Arroyo was declared the winner in 2004.
There were 215,000 voting precincts in 2004, compared to 175,000 in 1998. Most are run by public school teachers Elections are run by the Commissions of Elections (Comelec) and monitored by the watchdog group National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).
Elections: Senate - elections last held on May 13m 2013 (next to be held in May 2016); House of Representatives - elections last held on May 13, 2013 (next to be held in May 2016) election results: Senate - percent of vote by party for 2013 election - UNA 26.94 percent, NP 15.3 percent, LP 11.32 percent, NPC 10.15 percent, LDP 5.38 percent, PDP-Laban 4.95 percent, others 9.72 percent, independents 16.24 percent; seats by party after 2013 election - UNA 5, NP 5, LP 4, Lakas 2, NPC 2, LDP 1, PDP-Laban 1, PRP 1, independents 3; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - LP 38.3 percent, NPC 17.4 percent, UNA 11.4 percent, NUP 8.7 percent, NP 8.5 percent, Lakas 5.3 percent, independents 6.0 percent, others 4.4 percent; seats by party - LP 110, NPC 43, NUP 24, NP 17, Lakas 14, UNA 8, independents 6, others 12; party-list 57 [Source: CIA World Factbook]
Electoral System in the Philippines
The Philippines has universal direct suffrage at age 18 and older to elect the president, vice president (who runs independently), and most of the seats in the bicameral legislature, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate; a minority of House members known as sectoral representatives are appointed by the president. Elections are held not just for national leadership but also for representation at the provincial and local levels. In the last elections in May 2004, some 74 percent of eligible voters participated, but the process was marred by violence and numerous irregularities, which the political opposition continues to protest, even calling for the president’s impeachment. [Source: Library of Congress *]
Elections in the Philippines are the arena in which the country's elite families compete for political power. The wealthiest clans contest national and provincial offices. Families of lesser wealth compete for municipal offices. In the barangays, where most people are equally poor, election confers social prestige but no real power or money. *
The constitution also empowers the commission to "accredit citizens' arms of the Commission on Elections." This refers to the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), a private group established in the 1950s, with advice and assistance from the United States, to keep elections honest. NAMFREL recruited public-spirited citizens (320,000 volunteers in 104,000 precincts in the 1987 congressional elections) to watch the voting and monitor ballot-counting, and it prepared a "quick count," based mostly on urban returns, to publicize the results immediately. Because the Commission on Elections can take weeks or even months to certify official returns, the National Movement for Free Elections makes it harder for unscrupulous politicians to distort the results. NAMFREL itself has sometimes been denounced by election losers as being a tool of United States intervention and has not always been impartial. In 1986 it favored Aquino, and its chairman, Jose Concepcion, was subsequently named Aquino's minister of trade and industry. *
The 1987 constitution establishes a new system of elections. The terms of representatives are reduced from four years to three, and the presidential term is lengthened from four years to six. Senators also serve a six-year term. The Constitution's transitory provisions are scheduled to expire in 1992, after which there is to be a three-year election cycle. Suffrage is universal at age eighteen. The constitution established a Commission on Elections that is empowered to supervise every aspect of campaigns and elections. It is composed of a chairperson and six commissioners, who cannot have been candidates for any position in the immediately preceding elections. A majority of the commissioners must be lawyers, and all must be college-educated. They are appointed by the president with the consent of the Commission on Appointments and serve a single seven-year term. The Commission on Elections enforces and administers all election laws and regulations and has original jurisdiction over all legal disputes arising from disputed results. To counter the unwholesome influence occasionally exercised by soldiers and other armed groups, the commission may depute law enforcement agencies, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In dire situations, the commission can take entire municipalities and provinces under its control, or order new elections. *
The final decision on all legislative elections rests with the electoral tribunals of the Senate and House of Representatives. Each electoral tribunal is composed of nine members, three of whom are members of the Supreme Court designated by the chief justice. The remaining six are members of the Senate or the House, chosen on the basis of proportional representation from parties in the chamber. *
History of Elections in the Philippines
Until 1972 Philippine elections were comparable to those in United States cities during early industrialization: flawed, perhaps, by instances of vote-buying, ballot-box stuffing, or miscounts, but generally transmitting the will of the people. A certain amount of election-related violence was considered normal. Marcos overturned this system with innovations such as asking voters to indicate by a show of hands if they wanted him to remain in office. In the snap election of 1986, Marcos supporters tried every trick they knew but lost anyway. The heroism of the democratic forces at that time inspired many Filipinos. [Source: Library of Congress *]
The commission to "accredit citizens' arms of the Commission on Elections” is known as the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL). A private NAMFREL was instrumental in the election of President Ramon Magsaysay in 1953, and played a minor role in subsequent presidential elections. It lapsed into inactivity during the martial law years, then played an important role in Aquino's 1986 victory. [Source: Library of Congress *]
The first congressional elections under the 1987 constitution were held on May 11, 1987. Political parties had not really coalesced. Seventy-nine separate parties registered with the Commission on Elections, and voters had a wide range of candidates to choose from: 84 candidates ran for 24 Senate seats, and 1,899 candidates ran for 200 House seats. The elections were considered relatively clean, even though the secretary of local government ordered all governors and mayors to campaign for Aquino-endorsed candidates. There were sixty-three electionrelated killings. Some of these deaths were attributable to small-town family vendettas, whereas others may have had ideological motives. The armed forces charged that communists used strong-arm tactics in areas they controlled, and the communists in turn claimed that nineteen of their election workers had been murdered. Election results showed a virtual clean sweep for candidates endorsed by Aquino. *
The next step in redemocratization was to hold local elections for the first time since 1980. When Aquino took office, she dismissed all previously elected officials and replaced them with people she believed to be loyal to her. Local elections were originally scheduled for August 1987, but because many May 1987 congressional results were disputed and defeated candidates wanted a chance to run for local positions, the Commission on Elections postponed local elections first to November 1987 and then to January 18, 1988. More than 150,000 candidates ran for 16,000 positions as governor, vice governor, provincial board member, mayor, vice mayor, and town council member, nationwide. *
The final step in redemocratization was the thrice-postponed March 1989 election for barangay officials. Some 42,000 barangay captains were elected. At this level of neighborhood politics, no real money or power was involved, the stakes were small, and election violence was rare. The Commission on Elections prohibited political parties from becoming involved. *
Election Campaigns in the Philippines
Before elections in May 2010, Blaine Harden wrote in the Washington Post: “Elections in the Philippines are personality-driven, a kind of national soap opera in which distinctions between infamy and celebrity tend to blur over time. In the chaotic run-up to national elections on May 10, about 85,000 candidates are clamoring after 17,000 positions, from town council member to president. Political violence has claimed at least 80 lives, including 57 in one incident. And families that have long called the shots in the Philippines are angling for advantage. [Source: Blaine Harden, Washington Post, April 22, 2010]
Campaigns in the Philippines have been called charades and compared to con games. They are generally long on impossible-to-fullfilll promises and entertainment and short on policy statements, positions on issues and substantive debate. There are rules that limit campaign spending, advertising and television air time but these rules are often broken. The campaign period for presidential and legislative elections is theoretically about 60 days but is often much longer than that in reality.
Political rallies are entertainment extravaganzas. Candidates uses comic books to radio jingles to reach the voters. In a typical campaign rally the crowd wears caps with the names of the candidates they support and chant their names. It is not unusual for many of the members of the crowd to be paid to show up. In some cases candidates have been accused of using taxpayer money for their campaigns.
In the early 2000s it became fashionable for politicians to appear in advertisements and commercials, peddling everything from milk to detergents, to make money and get their names and faces recognized. Politicians have appeared on television, radio, billboards and posters. One presidential candidate plugged a Philippine-made brandy. President Arroyo appeared in ads endorsing low-price medicines, cheap rice and a commuter train service. Government -owned mobile stores that sold rice and other basic foodstuffs were called Gloria’s Stores.
Describing the scene six months before presidential in 2004, Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post, “In just one week in the Philippine capital, a former air transportation official was shot dead in a control tower at the international airport, lawmakers clashed over whether to impeach the nation's top judge and police dispersed thousands of protesters with tear gas and water cannons. And that, many Filipinos fear, was just another typical week as the May 2004 presidential election season opens and opposition forces sense that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is vulnerable. [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, November 23, 2003]
“More than 7,000 protesters were brought in from the slums to Manila's financial district on Nov. 12, organized and in some cases paid by anti-administration activists. They carried signs urging the ouster of Arroyo and the Supreme Court justice who swore her in three years ago. Anti-government sentiment rising in wake of President Arroyo’s u-turn announcement to run in 2004 elections. Fernando Poe, film actor and close friend of deposed President Joseph Estrada, also announced intention to run. Government declared military “red alert” 3 November to preempt instability from opposition-led impeachment bid against chief justice; military vowed to stay neutral.Three-hour siege by two armed men (including former aviation official with links to July mutineers) at Manila airport 8 November protesting corruption resulted in deaths of both. Thousands took to streets 11 and 14 November calling for president to step down. Formal peace negotiations with MILF expected to resume soon after Malaysia agrees to send team of 25 observers to Mindanao. Despite July ceasefire, government forces clashed with MILF rebels 11 November, killing 13, including two rebels and two police. [Ibid]
Election Irregularities and Problems with Philippine Electoral System
Philippine elections are often marred by violence, fraud and irregularities. Polling stations run out of ballots; ballot boxes go missing; names of legitimate voters aren’t not on voting lists; dead people remain on lists that have not been updated; stations run out of ink that keeps voters from voting twice. There has also been allegations that computers have been manipulated to change results.
"Politicians routinely" employ "election techniques that would embarrass a Chicago ward heeler," William Branigin wrote in the Washington Post. " Vote buying and dirty tricks are run-of-the-mill. Political groups here have resorted to such methods as moving polling stations at the last minute, kidnapping opposition voters, switching ballot boxes and tally sheets, voting not only involving the dead but entire ghost precincts and, when all else fails, blowing away rival candidates or local organizers."
Vote buying is common. "Election in the Philippines function something like a national welfare system," Mimi Swartz wrote in New Yorker, "In a country where the minimum wage is five dollars a day, an undecided vote is one who has not yet received gifts of food and cash from a candidate." The Marcos's spent an estimated $1 billion to win one election and that was when they were in power.
Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Here, politicians have no qualms about using what critics call "guns, gold and goons." Votes are still being counted by hand, while vote-counters are appointed by politicians who are also candidates. Vote-buying is said to be rampant - a charge frequently leveled by defeated candidates - and it is widely reported that many ordinary voters have come to expect bribes from politicians. The padding and shaving of votes - the practice of which Arroyo is now accused - is also apparently prevalent. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, July 1, 2005 *=*]
The electoral infrastructure “is the Commission on Elections, which had been a credible institution until Marcos politicized it and used it to lend legitimacy to his regime. Among other things, he packed it with his own appointees. When Marcos was ousted in 1986, his successor, Corazon Aquino, wanted to rebuild and strengthen the democratic institutions that Marcos destroyed, among them the commission. She appointed people with acknowledged credibility to run these institutions. *=*
“One of them is Christian Monsod, whom Aquino appointed as chairman of the commission in 1992, her last year in office. But, according to Monsod, who left the commission in 1995, "the three presidents after Aquino did more to weaken than to strengthen the commission." Monsod said the succeeding regimes "did not appoint good commissioners because they were more interested in their political agenda." This had the effect of restoring what Marcos had done - to pack the commission with the politically connected to control the outcome of votes. As a result, a "creeping rot" threatens the foundation of Philippine democracy, Monsod said. "The commission has zero credibility and is part of the problem." *=*
“In 1993, Monsod modernized the commission, overseeing the drafting of a new election code and improving its systems, most especially procedures for the counting of votes. More than a decade later and after spending close to 2 billion pesos, or about $36 million, on equipment and projects that never got off the ground, the commission still uses hand-counted votes and final results are not known until weeks after an election. Under the present setup, fraud apparently remains prevalent. *=*
“Every election since Marcos has brought complaints of cheating. Sulay Alipa, a former mayor of Bongao town in the southern Philippines, says he was cheated in the 2004 elections. The cheating took on many forms, he said by telephone. Some towns in his province had 98 percent voter turnout rates, which, he said, was statistically improbable. In one town, 10,000 were listed as voters when there were only 6,000 people of voting age. The teachers who did the counting, Alipa said, were appointed by officials who were also candidates, opening the way to fraud. And because elections here are often accompanied by violence, the police and military are usually put under the commission's control during the voting, which also raises the likelihood of fraud. In past elections, state security forces were involved in snatching ballot boxes or preventing people from voting. *=*
Need to Reform the Philippine Elections
In 2005, after Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, went on national television to apologize for election-related improprieties, Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “Election experts say that Filipinos must have honest elections before they have even a chance of becoming prosperous and politically stable. Electoral reforms are crucial in a country whose politics are still dominated by decades-old political dynasties. “The current political crisis is the result of our faulty and corrupt electoral system," said José Concepción, chairman of the National Movement for Free Elections, an election monitoring group. "Either we reform this system or this is not going to be the last of these crises. It's now or never." [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, July 1, 2005 *=*]
If shady election “practices are eliminated, according to the experts, the Philippines may finally see an end to the political upheavals that roil it with worrisome frequency - upheavals that are often caused by the questionable mandates that election fraud often creates. Only then, they say, can the country attain political maturity and the full flowering of its democracy. “The current political crisis is the result of our faulty and corrupt electoral system," said José Concepción, chairman of the National Movement for Free Elections, an election monitoring group. "Either we reform this system or this is not going to be the last of these crises. It's now or never." "The electoral process is at the very center of this crisis," said Ronald Meinardus, country representative for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation of Germany, which has been funding programs here for election reforms. "Had it not been for the flawed electoral process, this wouldn't have happened." *=*
“Alipa says his experience is all too common in many parts of the country. "We should really change our electoral process," he said. But change can only happen if Filipino leaders have the political will to do it, according to Meinardus of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. "The political class is happy with the status quo because they could have their privileges, no matter that it does not allow for true democracy, that it only allows for manipulation of the process," he said. "Looking around, I don't see anybody among them calling for electoral reforms." *=*
In Isabela Province, the Catholic church deployed 3,000 parishioners to help guard ballot boxes after a powerful local family unplugged a radio station and took other actions when it appeared there was a good chance they might lose the governorship.
In the mid 2000s there was a trend to contest elections in the courts. One the eve of the 2004 election more than half a dozen disqualification cases were heard in the courts. They involved allegations of excessive campaign spending, breaking limits on political advertising, vote-buying and illegal use of tax payer money for elections.
Election Violence in the Indonesia
Campaign violence is a serious problem in the Philippines. There are clashes between supporters of rival politicians, attacks and arson at voting stations, gunfights at rallies, assassinations of candidates and assassinations by candidates. The problem is particularly acute in remote areas where insurgents, outlaws and armed militias often exert more control than the government.
More than a hundred people were killed in election-related violence in 1988. Elections had to be postponed in six Muslim provinces, two Ilocano provinces, two New People's Army-dominated provinces, and Ifugao because of unsettled conditions. The Commission on Elections assumed direct control of many towns, including some parts of Manila. The formerly unwritten rule of Filipino politics that political killings be confined to followers and henchmen and not to the candidates themselves now seemed to have been broken: Thirty-nine local candidates were killed in the 1988 campaign. Aquino remained aloof from the 1988 local elections, but many candidates claimed her backing. Personalities and clan rivalries seemed to take precedence over ideological issues.* Something like 116,000 soldiers and 26,000 police were assigned to prevent violence at the 1998 election.
“At least 46 people were been killed in the run-up to May 2013 mid-term elections since January, police said. On election day assailants fired a grenade at a school where the voting was under way in southern Marawi city, but missed and hit a house, wounding three people. Armed followers of a mayoral candidate clashed with marines in nearby Sulu province, where troops replaced local police. [Source: Hrvoje Hranjski, Associated Press, May 13, 2013 |=|]
See 2001 Senatorial Elections, 2004 Elections,Maguindanao Massacre Under History
Twenty-two Killed Ahead of Philippine Village Elections in 2013
In October 2013, Associated Press reported: “At least 22 candidates and supporters have been killed in election-related violence over the past month ahead of this week’s village polls across the Philippines, police said. Twenty-seven other people have been wounded in violence linked to election rivalries, mostly in shootouts, national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac said. At least 588 people have been arrested for violating an elections gun ban, with police confiscating nearly 500 firearms, 4,000 rounds of ammunition, 191 knives and 68 grenades. Fifteen people were killed in village election violence in 2010, Sindac said. [Source: Associated Press, October 28, 2013]
Government troops and police have gone on full alert for the daylong balloting, especially in about 6,000 of 42,028 villages nationwide considered security hotspots due to a history of electoral violence or past attacks by Muslim and communist insurgents or al-Qaida-linked militants. “Our elections in the past have always been marred by untoward incidents,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said, adding that government forces would guard against “spoilers to this democratic exercise.”
In the latest violence, unidentified men opened fire on a police car carrying an elections officer and policemen, setting off a gunbattle that wounded the poll official, two policemen and a civilian in Palanas town in central Masbate province, police said. Police arrested the son of a candidate for village chairman and 16 other supporters, some of them armed with shotguns and pistols, for allegedly threatening a rival candidate in southern South Cotabato province, police said. Officials have postponed elections in central Bohol province, which was devastated by a strong earthquake on Oct. 15 that killed more than 200 people, and in southern Zamboanga city, where Muslim rebels occupied coastal villages and took scores of residents hostage in a three-week standoff last month that killed more than 200 combatants and civilians.
Village Chiefs Killed in Election Violence
In January 2010, Associated Press reported: “Gunmen barged into the home of a village leader in the central Philippines, killing him in front of his family in the latest violence ahead of May elections, the military said. Danny Amor was shot several times in the back with silencer-fitted pistols as he had dinner at home with his family in Masbate province's San Jacinto township, said Maj. Harold Cabunoc, an army spokesman. Cabunoc said politics was believed behind the killing, the second poll-related murder in the province in three days. The head of a village leaders' association was shot dead days earlier in Esperanza township. Wednesday, National Police Chief Jesus Verzosa put Masbate province under special police watch because of the province's history of poll violence. Nearly a third of Philippine cities and municipalities have been identified as potential hotspots for election unrest. [Source: Associated Press, January 22, 2010]
In 2007, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported: “Two elected village chiefs were killed in separate incidents hours after voting ended in barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council) elections. The latest reports have increased the number of cases of election-related violence to 50, police said. A Philippine Daily Inquirer report from Shariff Kabunsuan said that in Sultan Kudarat, Samsodin Lumbos, a newly proclaimed village chief of Balut, was shot to death by unidentified suspects. Another Inquirer report from Tacloban City said Marcos Anquillo, who was reelected village chief of Zone 3 and a village watchman, identified as Roger Reyes, were shot dead earlier on the same day. The Inquirer report from Shariff Kabunsuan quoted Superintendent Ismael Ali, Shariff Kabunsuan police director, as saying that Lumbos was killed near the Sultan Kudarat Municipal Hall around 11:30 p.m. Monday. "The victim had just been proclaimed winner defeating an administration candidate when he was shot dead in a dark portion near the municipal hall," Ali said. He said the incident was the second election-related killing in the province. On Oct. 18, reelectionist Senditan barangay chairman Hadji Akmad Abdullah and village councilor Monib Ali were killed in an ambush by unidentified gunmen. [Source: Joey A. Gabieta, Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Señase, Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 30, 2007]
Political Violence in Mindanao
In 2010, Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “In November 2009, several members of Mindanao’s mightiest political family, the Ampatuans, orchestrated the massacre of 57 people - friends and supporters of a rival politician, as well as at least 30 journalists. A subsequent discovery lent credence to the widespread claims that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the national police had favored the Ampatuans, willing to overlook their misdeeds as long as they helped in the fight against the MILF. According to a government report, weapons used in the massacre had been originally licensed to the army and police. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, October 30, 2010 =/=]
“During a three-mile trip Lt. Col. Benedict Arevalo, “riding in an eight-vehicle convoy, scanned both sides of the road, pointing to buildings carved by old firefights. He talked about this lush island’s warring factions as if describing a headache that cannot be relieved: The government battles the MILF rebels, leaving the cease-fire as mere rhetoric. Families take sides, building their own guerrilla groups. The government favors particular families, allowing them to stockpile arms to fight the rebels. Families without government support grow resentful, forming alliances with the rebels. =/=
“It’s a decades-old struggle. Arevalo’s father, a former military official, spent the 1970s trying to negotiate peace here. Muslims settled the area well before the Spaniards’ arrival in the 16th century, and they outlasted American control at the turn of the 20th century, becoming a minority only in the 1960s, when the Manila government pushed for Christian resettlement in Mindanao. Though the Philippines in 1996 granted the Muslims an autonomous region, the MILF seeks more land. “Over there, that’s MILF territory,” Arevalo said, pointing to his left. “We’re talking by the thousands. They’re just one kilometer away. We do not go to those areas.” =/=
“In three previous barangay elections, roughly 120 candidates had been killed. Arevalo had his own reasons for concern. In September, the government arrested two key MILF officials. Based on army intelligence - humidity-curled reports that Arevalo carried on a clipboard - the MILF now plotted revenge. It had buried five to eight roadside bombs, the reports said, within Mindanao’s troubled Maguindanao province, and Arevalo was a likely target. =/=
Effort to End Political Violence in the Philippines
In January 2010, in an attempt to forestall violence ahead of the polls, the Philippines initiated a five-month, nationwide ban on carrying guns in public, and at least 357 violators have been arrested so far, including 52 police and military personnel found with weapons while not in uniform or on duty.
Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “The government in Manila has tried to ensure safe elections, setting up checkpoints throughout the country to clamp down on illegal guns and banning liquor sales the day before the vote. In Mindanao, though, the partial downfall of the Ampatuan clan opened a power vacuum. Of the Philippines’ 42,025 townships (or “barangays”), the government had designated 2,655 hot spots where violence was likely. More than half were in Mindanao. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, October 30, 2010 =/=]
Effort to End Political Violence in Mindanao
In 2010, Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “Lt. Col. Benedict Arevalo headed to a ramshackle town hall to join about 100 local candidates who had gathered to sign an agreement promising not to kill one another in the final days of campaigning before local elections. About 70 percent of the population owns guns here on the Philippines’ main southern island of Mindanao, and politics seems a lot like combat, as candidates from feuding families and clashing religions battle for even the smallest chunks of power. For decades, the Philippine army had crafted its own alliances, picking sides in the political fights rather than refereeing them, and Arevalo represented the military’s new push for neutrality. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, October 30, 2010 =/=]
“Arevalo, assigned to this bloody section of the Philippines in December, describes his territory as “lawless.” Its challenges, which include an Islamic rebel group (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF), have prompted the United States to station troops in Mindanao since 2002. Local elections, Arevalo knew, would reawaken skepticism about the military’s ability to step away from its own history. At the peace signing Thursday, he had the chance to defuse some of those doubts. “We want to remove the AFP from the warring families and take a more objective position,” said Col. Mayoralgo De La Cruz, whose 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade also patrols the area. “As much as possible, we are not taking sides.” =/=
“At the town hall, about 200 hundred local residents and small-time politicians passed through an entrance gate, guarded by a dozen soldiers. Local election official Norhda Dipatuan introduced the peace agreement “in the name of Allah, most gracious and merciful.” She then asked the candidates to separate MILF disputes from political disputes, and called for a “politically neutral environment where fellow candidates are free to campaign without fear of harassment or violent acts from rival candidates.” Some nodded their heads. =/=
“At the peace covenant, Arevalo directly addressed the MILF, as if hoping his voice would carry beyond the walls. He said he knew where the group’s leaders live. He said the army was exercising restraint. And he asked for orderly, fair elections. Arevalo recognized the pact as a half-step. In some barangays, 10 people were running for the top “chairman” positions. On street stalls and rickety wooden houses, candidates hung their posters - often nothing more than an unsmiling head shot. But few campaigned, fearing for their security.” =/=
Violence Against Team Attempting to End Political Violence in Mindanao
In 2010, Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “One current barangay captain, Maruan Edzla, 25, said he inherited his position in 2006, taking over for his father, who was shot by three MILF rebels. Thursday afternoon, Edzla signed the peace covenant. So did one of his rival candidates. Two did not. As Arevalo returned to his convoy, he said that a hundred candidates swearing peace helps him “narrow down the number of people you have to worry about.” [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, October 30, 2010 =/=]
“Arevalo’s convoy headed back to the battalion camp in the darkness, a bad time to head anywhere in Mindanao. At 6:25 p.m., two quick explosions shook the two-lane road, and everything was bathed in dust. The Humvee leading the convoy pulled a U-turn, returning to the spot of the blasts, and soon Arevalo’s men were out of the vehicle, gunfire coming from both sides of the road. For two minutes, weapons boomed and echoed, and then it was all over. Several convoy vehicles’ windows had been splintered by shrapnel and gunfire. A bullet fragment had slipped through the Humvee door, spider-webbing the bulletproof glass and nipping the driver, Jackson Martinez, on the cheek. But that was the lone army injury. =/=
“For the rest of the night and into morning, Arevalo and his men obsessed over re-creating the sequence of events. They guessed that 15 enemies had been waiting in the hillsides, scattering after the attack. Bomb squad experts found two craters and fragments of two cellphones, used for remote detonation. Army officials determined that the first blast came from a 105mm howitzer, the next from a 66mm mortar round. Their remnants were covered in yellow plastic bags. “It’s the MILF. It’s the MILF,” Arevalo said.”They’ll deny it. . . . But the cellphone - this is the signature of the special ops group of the MILF.” =/=
“In the incident report Arevalo would later approve, the AFP attributed the attack to the MILF - a revenge ambush for last month’s arrests. In private moments, Arevalo would acknowledge that he was likely the target. But the only certainty was the ambush’s end result. During the firefight, a civilian vehicle stuck just behind the military convoy couldn’t get away in time. Errant shots from one of the hillsides, according to soldiers, killed two of the vehicle’s passengers: Salik Talipasan and Ustadz Nasser. Talipasan was a local barangay chairman, running for reelection. Hours before his death, he had signed the peace covenant.” */*
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015