By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor
Election violence has long been a staple of Philippine politics and this year is no different.
In the weeks leading to the May 13 mid-term elections, the possibility of violence erupting in no less than 941 “hotspots” throughout the archipelago resulted in the Philippine National Police (PNP) being placed on high alert.
Thus far, this year’s campaign period is proving to be less violent than last year’s barangay elections which saw 35 fatalities, including a former congressman and a radio broadcaster.
Moreover, 19 others were hurt relative to the May 2018 elections.
Of the election hotspots identified by the PNP, five cities are located in Metro Manila, led by the capital city of Manila itself along with Mandaluyong, Malabon, Pasay and Caloocan.
PNP Chief Director Gen. Oscar Albayalde tagged the five cities as yellow “areas of concern” due to past instances of election violence. However, the PNP was most concerned at the potential for violence in Lanao del Norte in Muslim Mindanao, where “intense political rivalry” regularly flares up during elections. Specifically in the Lanao provinces, clan feuds have also exacerbated the problem resulting in the PNP declaring the area as the place where election-related violence is most expected.
Danger zones are given a code red but when the probability of violence is high, the Commission on Elections is empowered to take control of such areas and may bring in the military to assist the PNP, if necessary.
The PNP expressed frustration at the failure of witnesses to testify even when candidates or their followers are killed, as what happened in a previous election where the families of the victims and suspects instead opted to shoot it out in a “rido” or clan feud, resulting in more than a dozen killed.
Because threats against candidates are not uncommon nationwide, the PNP granted police escorts to no less than 172 bets this year.
While the PNP has not yet released the total death toll in relation to the May elections, there have been high-profile killings involving members of political dynasties seeking election or re-election to local government posts.
Recent examples include the killing of a party list congressman in the Bicol region and a former lawmaker in La Union seeking a return to power.
In Northern Luzon, the police are keeping close tabs on the provinces of Cagayan and Ilocos Norte.
Last week, however, the tense situation in Ilocos Norte was diffused when Congressman Rudy Farinas, who was eyeing the post of governor after exhausting his maximum term in the House of Representatives, bowed out of the race in favor of his opponent, a son of senatorial bet Imee Marcos.
While a gun ban is enforced nationwide during election season, the most entrenched political dynasties regularly ignore the ban and their private armies patrol their turfs while local police turn a blind eye.
One good sign that the PNP hopes becomes the norm until election day and beyond is the absence of poll-related violence in the province of Abra, also in Northern Luzon.
While violence was common in the province in past elections, the situation has been quiet since the campaign period began last month.
The PNP remains hopeful that this year’s polls will see a reduction in the election-related violence after vowing to be more highly visible than in past electoral exercises.