The killing of Vice Mayor Abel Martinez of Mambusao, Capiz, may have unofficially but bloodily opened the 2013 election season, violence being a trademark of Philippine elections. No less than Interior Secretary Jesse M. Robredo has warned that he expects political killings to rise in the months leading to the midterm elections, following the assassination of Martinez. But Philippine National Police spokesperson Senior Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr. has cautioned against linking the incident to politics, saying it’s still premature to conclude that Martinez’s killing might have been motivated by politics. He has explained that based on statistics, Capiz may be considered among the most peaceful provinces during elections.
But it’s better to expect the worst. On Nov. 23, 2009, the wife of then Buluan town’s Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu and two women lawyers, along with 32 media men and a number of supporters left Buluan to file the vice mayor’s candidacy for governor and challenge the reign of the powerful Ampatuan clan. We all know what happened. Hours later, their bullet-riddled bodies were found on a hill in the inner village of Salman. Some of them were sprawled on the grass, others still in their vehicles. Most were buried in hastily dug graves using a government-owned backhoe. The incident opened the mean season known as the 2010 national and local elections.
So it’s not surprising that Robredo, a former mayor of Naga City in Camarines Sur, is not taking any chances. He told the Inquirer that he foresees an increase in election-related violence and has “taken additional measures.” For instance, he has advised local politicians planning to run in next year’s polls to request police security “if they need it.” He added he was discouraging politicians from employing private security guards.
Robredo need not look far at the roots of poll violence. As interior secretary, he must review the police’s record of keeping the peace, especially in election hotspots, and realize it has been historically far from rosy. It is typical for instance for the Department of Interior and Local Government and PNP to raise the alarm on violence in the runup to the elections, dispatching police forces and deputizing military troops left and right to election hotspots, and generally watching the situation go from bad to worse. After the elections, with blood splattered all over the ballot, the alert is downgraded and the DILG and PNP settle down to a semblance of peace and general lethargy. Meanwhile, the traffic in loose firearms grows and politicians build their private armies for the next elections.
It is galling for example that in the aftermath of several shopping mall shooting incidents, in which civilians carrying guns were able to pass through security and open fire at their victims in a fit of jealousy, the PNP had to report with a straight face that at least a million firearms are on the loose. To be sure, such a large number of undocumented firearms increase the potential not only of crimes of passion but also of political violence erupting. Moreover, considering that the PNP also regulates ordnance, one can just imagine the general state of the government’s antiterrorism campaign. It’s a situation that could blow up on everyone’s face, especially the public’s.
But of course, like Robredo, the public has no choice but to hope against hope that the PNP will deliver, that it will maintain public safety and order before, during and after the elections.
There must be a way to lessen Philippine elections’ penchant for violence and mayhem. Part of the problem is that elective offices are often seen in the poverty-prone provinces as opportunities for the elite to shore up and consolidate their economic fortunes. In many parts of the Philippines that are removed from metropolitan centers of power, elective and political offices are sure tickets to economic, self-aggrandizement. Meanwhile, Manila seeks to perpetuate such an arrangement so as to make the provinces dependent on the center, and on its budget releases, its political whims and caprices. No wonder, there are hardly big industries in the provinces and if there are, like minerals, energy and agriculture, their fruits are first channeled to Manila that distributes them to the rest of the country, with the provinces in the end paying double for resources that in fact came from them. The violence of Philippine elections merely mirrors the underlying violence of the Philippine political economy.