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Thursday, April 18, 2024

4 deaths in Mindanao, confusion tarnish ‘generally peaceful’ polls

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At least four people were killed in Mindanao on Monday as millions turned out to vote in the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) following months of deadly poll-related violence.

As in the last nationwide village elections five years ago, violence and confusion still marred the proceedings, but the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said polls were generally peaceful this year.

Including the four killed yesterday in Maguindanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Basilan, total fatalities came to 12 with seven injured for this year’s elections, compared to 35 election-related incidents in the 2018 contests, Comelec and police records showed.

Scuffles were also noted in Abra, where a group of men carrying handguns in a sling bag were stopped – in a province that was under watch by authorities as over 290 candidates withdrew before the polls — and in Palawan, where a group destroyed ballots in voting precincts in Puerto Princesa City.

Security forces were on high alert across the country for the long-delayed nationwide vote for more than 336,000 council positions.

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While barangays are the lowest-level government unit, the council posts are hotly contested because they are used by political parties to cultivate grassroots networks and build a support base for local and general elections.

More than 300,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed to secure polling stations in over 42,000 villages.

In Manila, voters waited in long lines to cast their ballots at schools being used as polling venues.

“This is important for the people… we need to be able to consult someone over our problems,” said Rosemarie Garcia in the hardscrabble neighborhood of Tondo.

“We need somebody who is easily approachable to his or her constituents.”

Elections are a traditionally volatile time in the Philippines, which has lax gun laws and a violent political culture.

‘Generally peaceful’

Comelec chairman George Garcia said voting had been “generally peaceful” except for several incidents in Mindanao. This assessment was shared by Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. and top police officials.

Two people were killed and five others were wounded outside a polling station in Maguindanao del Norte province, police said.

The shootout happened during a confrontation between supporters of rival candidates for village captain, said Datu Odin Sinsuat municipality police chief Lieutenant-Colonel Esmail Madin.

In another incident on Mindanao, a woman was killed when a gunfight broke out after a van carrying a village captain and her supporters was stopped on a road by people backing her rival in Lanao del Norte province, the army said.

The husband of a barangay captain in Lanao del Sur province died after he was shot in the chest during a confrontation with his wife’s rival, police said.

A village chief and five others were wounded in a shooting in Barangay Lahi-Lahi in Basilan’s Tuburan town.

‘Very important’ result

In the run-up to Monday’s vote, there were 31 confirmed incidents of election-related violence, compared with 35 in 2018, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Sunday, without providing an updated breakdown for the number of dead and injured.

About one-third of the incidents happened in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Previous police data showed eight people were killed and seven injured in poll-related violence between August 28 and Oct. 25.

More than 67 million people were registered to vote in the elections, which President Marcos described Monday as “very important” for higher-level politicians.

“What happens here in the barangay (village)… are going to have an effect on the results of the mid-term elections and subsequently at the national elections,” Mr. Marcos said after casting his vote in his family’s stronghold of Batac City in the northern province of Ilocos Norte.

“If other barangays tell you ‘I will deliver 350 votes for you in my barangay’, rest assured, you will get 350. That’s why the result is very important.”

After casting his vote in Batac, Ilocos Norte, Marcos said he received reports of widespread vote buying in his home province and instructed the police and the Comelec to enforce the law.

The President also appealed to the voters not to sell their votes and to choose the right barangay officials who would serve their needs and concerns.

Counting and results

Polling stations were due to close at 3:00 p.m., but voting was extended in some places.

Vote counting was underway and results would be announced late Monday, said Garcia.

Voters chose a barangay captain and seven councilors responsible for implementing national policies, resolving neighborhood disputes and providing basic public services.

Barangay councils also enable politicians to “disseminate funds and other favors to secure votes,” said Maria Ela Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

Barangay elections are supposed to be held every three years, but the last vote was in 2018.

They were postponed by former president Rodrigo Duterte and then his successor Marcos on the grounds the government could not afford them.

The Comelec reminded all winning candidates that they need to meet several requirements before they can assume office.

In a press briefing, poll body’s spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said these were a proclamation by the Comelec, their oath of office, then assumption to office.

He added, however, that the Comelec may defer the proclamation of winning candidates who have pending disqualification cases.

Winning candidates must also submit their statement of contributions and expenditures before they will be allowed to assume their posts.

Peace and order

Abalos commended the PNP for effectively maintaining peace and order throughout the country on the days leading to the BSKE, especially in the National Capital Region.

“As per reports, it’s very peaceful right now (in Metro Manila). On the other hand, the police are doing their job, which is to catch those engaged in vote buying and for those who sell their votes, I’m warning you, the police are there to catch you,” Abalos said.

Abalos, who also cast his vote at the Highway Hills Integrated School in Barangay Highway Hills, Mandaluyong City, said voters have a responsibility of ensuring fraud-free and credible elections.

PNP Chief Police Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr. said the situation in election areas of concern has been manageable so far despite some significant incidents.

At a news conference, the chief PNP said that “peace and order have been observed” in areas under the control of the Comelec, which are Negros Oriental and Libon, Albay.

“Our forces remained on high alert in other areas with security concerns. While there are significant incidents noted in these areas, the current situation remains manageable,” he added.

National Capital Region Police Office chief Brig. Gen. Jose Melencio Nartatez Jr. said except for four reported cases of vote buying and three cases of liquor ban violation, the village and youth polls in the region were peaceful.

He said more than 150 body-worn cameras (BWCs) were used to monitor Monday’s polls.

The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), Comelec’s citizens’ arm for the 2023 BSKE, also observed a peaceful and orderly conduct of elections nationwide.

Namfrel observed that the Electoral Boards (EBs) appeared well-prepared in general, citing their systematic handling of the process inside the polling places.

“There has been a high turnout of voters, especially among senior citizens who turned up early outside voting centers prior to the start of voting,” Namfrel said. With AFP

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