A BARANGAY chairman was shot dead in Nueva Ecija while a town mayor was wounded in an ambush in the port city of Zamboanga two days before the campaign for the May local and national elections kicks off.
Police identified the fatality as Rolando Bautista, 42, a barangay chairman of San Carlos. His wife Lydia, and his sister-in-law Alice Abestejo were wounded in the attack and taken to hospital, while his one-year-old grandson who was also in the vehicle was unhurt.
In Zamboanga City, a gunman riding a motorcycle opened fire on Mayor Jasper Que as he drove with his two bodyguards, at 9 a.m., police spokeswoman Senior Inspector Helen Galvez said.
Que, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, suffered three gunshot wounds to his arm, leg and buttocks and was recovering in hospital, while his assailant escaped.
On the cusp of the campaign period, the Philippine National Police said it has arrested more than 700 people for violating the pre-election gun ban.
Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, PNP spokesman, said as of 8 a.m. Sunday, 746 persons have been apprehended for carrying firearms since the implementation of the Commission on Elections gun ban on Jan. 10.
These include 711 civilians, five police officers, 11 government officials, 12 security guards, five employees of a law enforcement agency, and two members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit, Mayor said.
He added that the PNP confiscated 592 firearms, 4,609 deadly weapons, 25 grenades, seven other explosives, 21 firearm replicas, 212 bladed or pointed weapons and 4,344 rounds of ammunition.
The three-month campaign begins Tuesday with most interest focusing on a crowded contest to succeed President Benigno Aquino III.
There are myriad other sub-plots, including a bid by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ son to take the vice presidency and eight-time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao’s run for a Senate seat.
The jailhouse campaigns of two politicians charged with murder who are running in local mayoral elections, as well as detained former President Gloria Arroyo’s run for a third term as congresswoman fuel a sizzling political atmosphere of chaos and chicanery.
There are four major contenders in the battle to move into the presidential palace and most analysts predict the deciding factors will—as usual—be name recognition and charisma rather than ideology or policy.
“In the Philippines, elections are like a circus with the candidates trying to attract attention with their performances,” Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Manila-based Institute for Political and Economic Reform, said.
“Programs and policies are secondary... it’s a personality contest.”
Aquino won in a landslide six years ago largely due to the popularity of his parents, who led the democracy movement that saw Marcos flee into US exile in 1986.
Aquino’s preferred successor is US-educated investment banker Manuel Roxas II, a trusted ally with many years governing experience who is vowing to continue the President’s “straight path” agenda.
But Roxas, 58, is trailing in polls and analysts say he has a huge task to ignite an electorate that generally perceives him as having little charisma.
“He is dry, he can’t connect to ordinary people,” Parreno said.
In contrast is Vice President Jejomar Binay, 73, a natural campaigner who grew up in poverty but rose to become one of the nation’s most powerful politicians.
Binay heads the main opposition party but he has had to endure a barrage of corruption allegations.
A Senate committee recently recommended Binay be charged with graft for kickbacks allegedly taken during his long stint as mayor of the nation’s financial capital, Makati.
Binay denies the allegations, insisting they are part of a smear campaign by his opponents and that his family’s new riches have been earned legitimately.
Meanwhile, he has sought to portray himself as the man of the poor through slick TV and Internet video clips.
Another top contender for the presidency is Senator Grace Poe, 47, the adopted daughter of a dead movie star whose success so far can largely be attributed to her father’s enduring popularity.
However, the Supreme Court could knock her out of the race before the May 9 elections, with justices currently listening to arguments she is ineligible based on citizenship and residency laws.
The Constitution requires presidents have Filipino parents. But Poe does not know who her biological parents are. Complicating matters, she lived in the United States for many years and took US citizenship before renouncing it.
Binay and Poe have over recent months swapped top spot in popularity surveys. The latest poll, released on Saturday, showed Poe edging back ahead by a small margin.
The wildcard contender is Rodrigo Duterte, 70, a controversial figure nicknamed “The Punisher” for his ruthless but successful tactics fighting crime as mayor of Davao.
Human rights groups have accused Duterte of running vigilante “death squads” that killed suspected criminals.
Duterte has denied leading death squads but gave a speech late last year in which he bragged about killing drug traffickers.
His vows to clean up crime and end corruption in the nation of 100 million people have won him many fans, both rich and poor.
Meanwhile, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the dead dictator, has a strong chance to become the Philippines’ next vice president, currently in second place in polling.
His father and mother, Imelda, are accused of plundering billions of dollars from state coffers and overseeing widespread human rights abuses.
The senator says he has nothing to apologize for and is counting on voters—many of whom were born after the 1986 “People Power” revolution—to cement a remarkable political comeback for the family.
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