by Perry Diaz
A popular British phrase, “Bloody hell!” is an expression of annoyance,
surprise, shock or anger. The Americans have a four-letter word for it. And
the Australians took it to another level to promote Australia on television — “
So where the bloody hell are you?” But the recent elections in the
Philippines bring a new meaning to “Bloody hell!” Yes, the elections were hellishly
For starters, it was estimated by non-government organizations (NGOs) that
close to 150 people were murdered — of which about 60 were candidates —
since the campaign began in January 2007. In addition, about 150 people were
injured. The Philippine National Police (PNP), however, claimed that only 41
killings were election-related and the rest were not. The PNP Command said
that election-related violence was “relatively low” compared to past elections.
Also, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) said that “the process was
generally peaceful and orderly.” However, international observers were vocally
critical of the widespread violence. Whom would you believe? If the NGOs
were correct, it would make the Philippines’ elections more dangerous than
post-Saddam Hussein Iraq elections.
It was estimated that at least 100,000 voters stayed home for fear of their
lives. COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos conceded that many people were
disenfranchised. However, he told reporters that “there have been no reported
incidents of cheating except for minor isolated incidents.” That’s an
understatement. Nevertheless, he set up a special panel to investigate the
cheatings and opened 110 special courts to handle claims of election fraud. Now,
that’s an overkill. If there were only “minor isolated incidents,” why would
Mr. Abalos assign 110 special courts to handle these “minor isolated
incidents.” Meanwhile, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the filing of at
least 20 cases against people responsible for election-related and
extrajudicial killings. What? Another Melo Drama Commission?
Of major concern to the international observers — who came from Indonesia,
Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — was Mindanao,
particularly the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Since Philippine
independence in 1946, Mindanao have had a reputation of having the worst
electoral processes in the country. Today, ARMM is known as the “cheating capital
for elections.” It is no wonder that one of the observers remarked that the
situation in the region was worse than Afghanistan when a small bomb went
off at a precinct she was observing. After the bombing incident, she saw armed
men walking away with ballot boxes accompanied by tanks and a mayor which
the observer called a “warlord.” Another observer reported that he watched
votes being paid for openly. The observers also reported that secrecy of the
ballot was compromised due to the ineffective “ballot secrecy folders” which
were inadequate in blocking the candidates’ poll watchers from seeing whom
they voted for. Of course, if their votes were bought, the candidate who
bought their votes would want to make sure that they really voted for him or her.
Vote-buying was rampant throughout the country — from 200 pesos to 1,500
pesos per vote.
Open political warfare also erupted in Nueva Ecija, Abra, and several other
provinces. Last April 27, bodyguards and goons of political rivals shot it
out in front of hundreds of people in Jaen, Nueva Ecija. In the shoot-out,
four people died and 14 wounded. It was termed as one of the bloodiest ele
ction-related incidents. Anther province that attracted international attention
was Abra where candidates, followers, police officers, and election
officials were killed in ambushes and gunfights.
Violence did not stop on election day. Post-election violence included the
murders of the reelected Mayor and a Councilor in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte.
However, this incident was in contrast to the generally peaceful elections in
Ilocandia. The Regional Election Monitoring Action Center (REMAC) reported
that there were no occurrence of violence in Ilocandia on election day. It is
interesting to note that nine mayoralty candidates in Ilocos Sur, six in
Ilocos Norte, and nine in La Union ran unopposed. All in all, about 70 candidates
in these three Ilocandia provinces ran without opposition. Which makes you
wonder if this is the way to go to avoid violence in local elections —
prospective candidates and political leaders getting together to arrive at a
consensus as to who would be the best candidate to run. This could, however, lead
to further entrenchment of the political dynasties.
The 2007 elections demonstrated once again that democracy is still as
elusive as it had been in the past six decades since independence. Like Aesop’s
fable of the “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” our government is really an oligarchy
clothed in “democracy” where political power is held by political
dynasties. The election-related violence in Nueva Ecija, Abra and ARMM was the result
of clashes among political dynasties fighting for primacy while the
relatively peaceful elections in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and La Union were the
result of the supremacy and entrenchment of the ruling political dynasties in
The notable positive outcome of the 2007 elections was the senatorial
contest. The leading 12 senatorial candidates are, in my opinion, the best and the
brightest among the candidates. For once, the Filipinos had voted wisely.
It’s a new ballgame — no more actors, entertainers, and comedians. It is
interesting to note that among the Magic12 are several young, bright, and
educated men. They are the new “ilustrados.” Like the “ilustrados” that
inspired the Revolution of 1896, this new generation of “ilustrados” — should
they remain unpolluted by power and corruption — could become the catalysts for
change. On their shoulders rest the aspirations of a people who still have
hope that the Motherland would rise from the ashes of poverty.