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PNP: Violence worse than 2010 barangay elections; 22 killed

“Too much violence!” Joseph Dechavez of Muntinlupa City blurted out. “What’s with these people? Is government money really worth all this trouble? And to the lowest levels? Ugh!”

Dechavez remembered that barangay (village) elections used to be colorless, boring and amateurish, reminiscent of high-school politics.

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But the campaign for this year’s barangay elections had been bloody, and Dechavez complained about being bombarded every day with news of shootings and ambushes involving candidates.

The Philippine National Police reported on Monday that 22 candidates—11 of them incumbent officials—and supporters had been killed in prepoll violence, an unsettling hallmark of Philippine elections but particularly disturbing in this year’s village elections that were supposed to be nonpartisan.

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Senior Supt. Wilben Mayor, spokesman for PNP Director General Alan Purisima, said eight people, including a barangay captain and a barangay councilor, were reported missing.

“We expect the number of casualties to increase as we are still receiving reports from our field units,” Mayor said.

Despite President Aquino’s efforts to curb the power of political warlords and their private armies, this year’s violence was worse than the last village elections in 2010, when 15 people were killed, said Senior Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, chief of the PNP public affairs office.

Thirty-seven other people had been wounded in campaign violence linked to rivalries, mostly in shootouts, Sindac said.

The wounded included two policemen and two election officers who were ambushed by unidentified gunmen in Masbate province on Sunday, Sindac said.

At least 588 people had been arrested for violating the election gun ban, with police confiscating 516 firearms, 18 gun replicas, 200 knives, 68 grenades, 290 explosives and 4,328 rounds of ammunition.

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Another killing was reported in Masbate and a supporter of a candidate died in an ambush in Maguindanao province on Monday.

PO1 Haidelyn Pimentel Arevalo, a spokesperson for the Masbate police, said a certain Larry Canale, 49, a resident of Baang village in Mobo town, Masbate, was shot dead around 1:30 p.m. by one Richard “Andoy” Ramos outside an elementary school that was being used as a polling center in the village.

Canale was a supporter of Bobby Zarsuelo, who was challenging incumbent Samuel Bolong for the chairmanship of Baang village, Arevalo said.

Dechavez could not understand why there was so much violence when there was nothing much at stake in barangay elections.

The barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippines and those who are running for positions are not even members of political parties.

Dechavez said he was wondering whether the intense rivalries and killings were “too much ado over nothing.”

To help explain the violent turn of the barangay elections, political analyst and Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) head Ramon Casiple, in a telephone interview with the Inquirer on Saturday, underscored the disparity between what is “in theory” and what is “in practice.”

For instance, under the Local Government Code, the barangay chair should not receive a salary but only an honorarium of at least P1,000 and the barangay councilors P600 each.

But Casiple said that in reality, the prize is big: “The Internal Revenue Allotment, a regular budget, corporate taxes. The barangay has an income. That’s what makes it attractive.”

Another big disparity between what is stated in law and what is in practice is partisanship.

“In theory, the law says [the barangay elections] should be nonpartisan,” Casiple said, referring to a provision in the Omnibus Election Code that bars candidates from representing or receiving aid from any political party.

“But in reality, they’re important to mayors. That’s where the fight is. If you have the barangay, it’s a ready-made machinery for ward leadership. It has become a fight for ordinary politicos,” Casiple said.

Partisanship

Partisanship, he said, translates into the “perks” otherwise not stated by law, granted by higher government units.

“Here in Quezon City, all barangay captains are given cars,” Casiple said.

The Local Government Code lists meager benefits for barangay officials—a Christmas bonus, insurance coverage, free medical care in public hospitals, free tuition for their children, civil service eligibility, and a preference in appointment to any government position after their term.

Casiple said incidents involving partisanship could be reported to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) or the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), as these are election offenses.

He noted that there was a time when the villages were not so politicized. “Before the 1950s, barangay officials weren’t elected. They were like homeowners’ associations, formed based on consensus,” he said.

“But in the 1970s, during the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos, the barangay system became his channel to control the communities,” Casiple said.

Still important

Despite the barangay system’s faults, Casiple viewed the importance of the village as the “basic unit of government that deals with immediate problems” in the community.

“The mandate of a basic [government] unit as first responder is important. If you remove it you’ll have to invent another system,” he said.

A system going straight to a higher office would end up overloading the local government unit and affecting efficiency, Casiple said.

“The barangay system was set up precisely to break up [governmental functions] to [make them] more manageable,” Casiple said.

Government troops and police stepped up security in about 6,000 villages nationwide considered security hot spots due to a history of electoral violence or attacks by Moro and communist insurgents or al-Qaida-linked terrorists.

Teachers refuse to serve

Sindac said the PNP deployed 1,562 police officers to replace public school teachers in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) who refused to serve in polling centers for fear of getting caught in the crossfire between rival candidates.

The Department of Education supported the teachers’ decision to refuse to serve in this year’s elections, saying it was high time election duty for teachers was made optional.

Education Undersecretary Alberto Muyot, chair of the department’s election task force, said there had been too many cases of violence against teachers who had been deputized to serve in polling centers.

“We really want to avoid this. We hope that (election duty) will become optional and that teacher benefits will be increased,” Muyot said.

The Comelec deputized 498,623 public school teachers for service in this year’s barangay elections.

As balloting was going on at Barangay Mileb Elementary School in Rajah Buayan town in Maguindanao Monday morning, some candidates, including Datu Pingcol, who was running for village chair, had an altercation inside a polling precinct.

Pingcol called his nephews for reinforcement, but they were ambushed on a dirt road leading to the school.

Pingcol’s nephews Naser Malang and Saudi Untong were wounded in the attack. They were taken to a government hospital, where Malang was declared dead on arrival.

Grenade attack

In Digos City, Davao del Sur province, a grenade exploded inside the compound where Provincial Prosecutor Artemio Tajon lives.

The attack, the fourth in the run-up to Monday’s elections, occurred around 1 a.m. Witnesses said the grenade was thrown from a black pickup truck carrying armed men.

Police said no one was hurt in the attack, but a portion of Tajon’s house was damaged.

Early on Sunday, unidentified gunmen fired on the barangay hall in Mati, wounding a member of a civilian volunteer organization.

At the time of the attack in Mati, molotov bombs were thrown at Don Mariano Elementary School in Barangay Zone 3 and at Isaac Abalayan Elementary School in Barangay San Jose.

Senior Supt. Ronaldo Llanera, provincial police chief, said the molotov bombs missed the school buildings and there was no damage reported.

Llanera said the attacks were apparently intended to disrupt the barangay elections and a plebiscite on the creation of a new province to be called Davao Occidental.—With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan in Manila; Shiena M. Barrameda, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Edwin Fernandez, Julie S. Alipala, Eldie Aguirre and Orlando Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP

 

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