The attack by the New People’s Army on Mayor Ruth Guingona’s returning convoy last April, which killed two of her civilian aides and left her wounded, was only the most headline-grabbing act of violence of the election season. But there have been many other incidents, each one a dispiriting reminder that we are a long way off from true political maturity.
In the first week of May alone, a mayoral candidate in Tarlac was shot dead at close range, and the husband of a mayor seeking reelection was killed in Lemery, Iloilo.
Barangay Captain Rudy Abella, a former policeman, was gunned down at an election caucus in San Jose, Tarlac, by two men who later fled on motorcycles and were apparently helped by at least three lookouts. In the attack, a woman bystander was also wounded. Police investigators did not rule out a nonpolitical motive, pointing to Abella’s former career as a policeman. But his daughter, who has now replaced him as a candidate, said she believed the killing was election-related. “My father was a strong candidate, as people liked him,” she said.
About the same number of people was believed to have taken part in the Lemery ambush that killed John Apura, husband of Mayor Ligaya Apura, and his driver Rodel Lope. A companion was also wounded. Iloilo police did not rule out a political motive for the attack, although they noted that Apura was not a candidate. His widow, however, said the ambush was definitely election-related. “I may be the candidate but my husband was my main campaigner. He has no enemies,” she said.
Other acts of election-related violence have not resulted in deaths, but they have raised the political temperature in closely contested areas.
In Lamitan, Basilan, for example, four campaign workers of Mayor Roderick Furigay were wounded when what police investigators said was an improvised bomb was thrown at the reelectionist’s house.
In Manila, a campaign rally featuring deposed President Joseph Estrada, now a candidate for mayor, was disrupted by stone- and bottle-throwing. In all, three persons were injured. Estrada blamed his main competitor, Mayor Alfredo Lim. In response, Lim claimed that the fracas was actually staged by Estrada’s own men.
In Taguig City, campaign staff of mayoral candidate Rica Tiñga were apparently set upon by supporters of Mayor Lani Cayetano right in city hall; a total of 12 persons sustained various injuries.
At a news briefing last week, the Philippine National Police disclosed that it had recorded 49 acts of election-related violence since January; 17 of these incidents took place in the 15 high-risk provinces (many of them perennial election “hot spots”): Abra, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Cagayan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Cavite, Masbate, Samar, Misamis Occidental, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan.
The PNP listing cannot be exhaustive, since it does not take into account such nonviolent but still potentially risky conduct as that which marked the end of the mayoral debate in Cagayan de Oro City.
What explains this pattern of aggression?
One probable cause must be the zero-sum nature of many political contests, especially those involving executive positions such as city or town mayor. The loser usually spends the next three years in the political (sometimes even financial) wilderness, making a loss at the polls something to be avoided at all cost.
Another possible cause is the candidates’ own belligerent conduct. The violence that marred the Estrada rally is not completely surprising, for example, given the extremely hostile attitude the candidates have displayed toward each other.
A third possibility is structural: For both politician and voter alike, the vote is the be-all and end-all of politics. Capture of a political seat, in other words, is the only real purpose of politics.
There may be a fourth factor: Too many Filipinos think the threat of violence can be a source of humor. Consider Davao City’s resident tough guy, Rodrigo Duterte. At a campaign stop for senatorial candidates Francis Escudero and Grace Poe, with President Aquino’s actress-sister sharing the same stage, Duterte told voters in Davao’s Talomo district to vote for Senator Escudero: “Do you still want to live? Then make him No. 1.”
Who’s laughing now?