MANILA, Philippines >> Despite scattered killings and fears of fraud, Philippine officials say they expect congressional and local elections on Monday to be relatively peaceful after authorities took drastic steps to prevent chaos in one of Asia’s most rambunctious democracies.
More than 52 million Filipinos have registered to elect 18,000 officials in the midterm polls, including half of the 24-member Senate, nearly 300 members of the House of Representatives and leaders of a Muslim autonomous region in the south, where Islamic insurgents, al-Qaida-linked gunmen and privately run armies have long been a concern.
The logistical nightmare has been compounded by worries that some of about 80,000 automated counting machines, which are being used for only the second time following 2010 presidential elections, may fail to work in regions grappling with power outages, including the volatile south. About 1,000 portable generators have been transported to problematic areas.
At least 233,000 public school teachers have been deputized as election inspectors to help staff more than 36,000 polling centers but 200 refused to be assigned in four towns in southern Lanao del Sur, a province notorious for deadly election rivalries, and will be replaced by police, officials said.
“We are actually, I would say, 99.99999 percent prepared,” Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes told reporters.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said the 125,000-strong armed forces, along with the national police, have been placed on full alert for any emergencies.
“Although there are pockets of violence, leading to some deaths, the whole system is protected,” Tutaan said. “We are able to curtail the big threats and we don’t see any major disruption.”
The military has helped the government in urging candidates to shun violence. An army general took off with his troops aboard two helicopters and dropped leaflets calling for peaceful elections in Masbate, a central province notorious for political killings.
In the latest violence, gunmen killed five people and wounded two mayoral candidates in separate attacks Saturday in the south, including incumbent Mayor Joelito Jacosalem Talaid, who was wounded when about 10 men stopped his car and opened fire in Don Carlos town in Bukidnon province. Four police escorts were killed, police said.
Last month, about 15 men fired on a truck carrying town Mayor Abdul Manamparan and his supporters in southern Lanao del Norte province, killing 13 people including his daughter. It was the worst violence during the campaign.
Philippine elections have long been dominated by politicians belonging to the same bloodlines. At least 250 political families have monopolized power across the country, although such dynasties are prohibited under the 1987 constitution. Congress — long controlled by members of powerful clans targeted by the constitutional ban — has failed to pass the law needed to define and enforce the provision.
In 2009, 58 people, including 32 journalists, were massacred in the country’s worst political violence that was blamed on rivalry between two powerful clans in southern Maguindanao province.
Ana Maria Tabunda from the independent pollster Pulse Asia said such dynasties restrict democracy, but added that past surveys by her organization have shown that most Filipinos are less concerned about the issue than with the benefits and patronage they can receive from particular candidates. Voters also often pick candidates with the most familiar surnames instead of those with the best records, she said.
“It’s name recall, like a brand. They go by that,” she said.
Vote-buying has also been a problem. The Commission on Elections ordered a ban on bank withdrawals of more than $2,440 and the transportation of more than $12,200 from Wednesday through Monday to curb vote-buying, but the Supreme Court stopped the move.
The court decision disappointed Brillantes, who said vote-buying will certainly happen. He advised voters who are offered bribes by candidates to take the money and run.
“Get the money, then work for the defeat of the one giving money,” he said.