I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to understand this country.
Yesterday was polling day across the Philippines. Some 54 million voters in 42,000 barangays (local council areas) marked their boxes for 94,124 candidates vying for the 42,028 barangay chairmen positions and 715,012 aiming for the 29,196 barangay councilmen posts nationwide.
The Nation’s Business Mirror newspaper reassured its readers that polling was ‘generally peaceful’, quoting a National Police spokesman… this in a land where election violence has become the norm. The National Police declared on Monday that the barangay elections were generally peaceful, despite incidence (sic) of election-related violence that were recorded around the country, the paper reported.
Oh, well that’s a relief, I guess.
But hold on… The article went on to explain that the elections were marred by ballot snatchings, vote-buying, killing of candidates and their followers, harassments of voters and even fighting between security forces and lawless groups. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) was quoted as saying that at least 30 people were killed in at least 80 cases of election-related violent incidents since September 28… Some of the killings that were reported were the shooting of a member of the board of election inspectors, a barangay kagawad (councillor) and the husband of an incumbent barangay chairman.
Hmmm – 30 people out of 54 million? Well, I guess that works out at only about 0.00006 per cent of the voting population, so it could have been worse. OK, so at least 105 people were also arrested for violating an alcohol ban that was implemented by the Comelec, with most of the violators recorded in Metro Manila and Southern Mindanao (a strongly Moslem area!). A total of 613 individuals were also arrested for violating the Comelec-imposed gun ban with a total of 509 firearms seized and 290 explosives. It turns out that 17 of the violators were policemen, soldiers and government officials!
In Central Mindanao, armed men harassed local poll personnel … with an M-203 grenade launcher. (The armed men were apparently attempting to block the delivery of ballot boxes to one of the polling stations.) A team of soldiers also engaged members of private armed groups in a gun battle.
Comelec declared there had also been eight nuisance candidates, 300 unregistered candidates, and four candidates with criminal convictions. But the good news was that at least arrangements had been made in 190 barangays nationwide for those confined in jail to be allowed to vote – as long as they were serving a sentence of imprisonment of less than one year.
Comelec obviously had its finger on the pulse of the nation. For instance, did you know that it is actually illegal during election day to buy or sell votes? Yes, really it is – Comelec says so. Likewise the soliciting of votes within 30 metres of polling places; giving and/or accepting free drinks, food, transportation or anything of value; selling, serving, buying intoxicating liquor; and the holding of fairs, cockfights, boxing, horse races or other similar sports.
Malacañang (Presidential palace) hailed the peaceful and orderly conduct of the barangay elections and emphasized that the true voice of the people must prevail in the ballot count. The barangay elections are over and based on reports, the elections were peaceful and orderly. We appeal to the public to remain vigilant in monitoring the counting of ballots to ensure the success of the elections as a process of electing the deserving leaders in our barangays that are the foundation of democracy, the presidential spokesman added.