POSTED: 01:45 a.m. HST, May 13, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 08:22 a.m. HST, May 13, 2013
MANILA » Less violence than usual and expected glitches in voting machines marked Monday's congressional and local elections in the Philippines, which will gauge popular support for the president's anti-corruption drive and other reforms.
Elections Commission Chairman Sixto Brillantes said he expected turnout of 70 percent. More than 52 million voters registered to elect 18,000 officials, 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 and militants are a concern.
Results are expected within a day or two.
The ballots were stacked with familiar names of at least 250 political families who have monopolized power across the country, from former first lady Imelda Marcos, 83, to newly minted politicians like boxing star Manny Pacquiao.
"Wherever you go, you see the names of these people since we were kids. It is still them," businessman Martin Tunac, 54, said after voting in Manila. "One of the bad things about political dynasties is they control everything, including business."
Critics worry that a single family's stranglehold on different levels of government could stymie checks against abuses and corruption. A widely cited example is the 2009 massacre of 58 people, including 32 media workers, in an ambush blamed on rivalry between powerful clans in southern Maguindanao province.
Violence was less pronounced this year, with no Election Day deaths reported as of Monday night, but at least 46 people have been killed in the run-up to the elections since January, police said.
On Monday, assailants lobbed a grenade at a school where the voting was under way in southern Marawi city, but missed and hit a house, wounding three people. Armed followers of a mayoral candidate clashed with marines in nearby Sulu province, where troops replaced local police.
The official election watchdog, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said it received reports of breakdowns in some of about 80,000 voting machines, which are being used for only the second time since the 2010 presidential election. The supplier said it had expected 200 to 300 units to malfunction but had 2,000 replacements on standby.
At the end, Brillantes said the problems were minor and the polling generally smooth.
The outcome will determine the level of support for President Benigno Aquino III's reforms in his remaining three years in office. Aquino has been praised at home and abroad for cracking down on widespread corruption, backing key legislation and concluding an initial peace agreement with Muslim rebels.
But he cannot run for re-election and his choice of a candidate to succeed him, who will be expected to continue on the same reform path, will depend on the new political landscape.
The Aquino administration is confident they will maintain the majority in the House and the focus was on the Senate, said Ramon Casiple, head of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
"The implication of a Senate that is his ally is that he will have the needed support for his policies and programs," Casiple said. "Definitely he will not be a lame duck for the next three years because of that, much more if he maintains his popularity. This means they will be more in a position to contest the 2016 presidential elections on a more stable foundation."
Candidates backed by Aquino ran against a coalition headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay and deposed President Joseph Estrada. Although officially No. 2 in the country, Binay has emerged as the administration's rival and may be positioning himself for the 2016 race.
Among 33 senatorial candidates were two of Aquino's relatives, Binay's neophyte daughter, Estrada's son, a son of the sitting chamber president, a son of a late president, a spouse and children of former senators and there's a possibility that two pairs of siblings will be sitting in the same house. Currently, 15 senators have relatives serving in elective positions.
The race for the House was even more of a family affair. Toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos' widow was expected to keep her seat as a representative for Ilocos Norte province, her husband's birthplace, where the locals kept electing the Marcoses despite allegations of corruption and abuse during their long rule. Imelda Marcos' daughter Imee was seeking re-election as governor and her son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., is already a senator.
Incumbent Rep. Pacquiao ran unopposed and is trying to build a dynasty of his own: His brother Rogelio was seeking to represent his southern district and his wife, Jinkee, was vying to become vice-governor for Sarangani province.
Estrada, who was ousted in a 2001 "people power" revolt on corruption allegations, ran for mayor of Manila, hoping to capitalize on his movie star popularity, particularly among the poor.
School counselor Evelyn Dioquino said that the proliferation of political dynasties was a cultural issue and other candidates stood little chance because clans "have money, so they are the only ones who can afford (to run). Of course, if you have no logistics, you can't run for office."
Ana Maria Tabunda of independent pollster Pulse Asia said that 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.
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Jim Gomez contributed to this report.