Bloody, bizarre twists in election ‘teleserye’
Philippine elections have been known to be quite colorful, with red as their most dominant color, as seen in the amount of bloodshed they generate — before, during, and even after every election. Many candidates, their families and supporters have become casualties in this political exercise considered as the ultimate indicator of a thriving democracy. But more often than not, this democratic indicator happens almost always “at gunpoint,” to partially quote the title of a book published by Vera Files in collaboration with The Asia Foundation in 2011.
Edited by Yvonne T. Chua and Luz D. Rimban, “Democracy at Gunpoint: Election-related violence in the Philippines” includes nine reports describing and providing backstories of bloody incidents associated with elections in different provinces in the country, five of which are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, now the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. These provinces are Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
I am reminded of this book again as families of the victims of the tragic Maguindanao massacre commemorated last Nov. 23 the 12th anniversary of that gory and most horrendous of all election-related bloodbaths in Philippine history. That single incident in 2009 killed 58 people, including 32 Central Mindanao-based journalists.
Also among the victims were Genalin, the wife of Toto Mangudadatu, then pregnant; some relatives and friends, and their lawyers.
Twelve years after this tragedy, families of the victims are still demanding for justice as well as monetary reparations from the Ampatuan family.
“Understanding Election Violence in the Philippines: Beware the Unknown Assassins of May,” a recent peer-reviewed article based on academic research, echoes the findings and analysis in the 2011 Vera Files book. The article was published in Pacific Affairs (Vol. 94, No. 3, September 2021) and written by Tom Smith of the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, and Joseph Anthony L. Reyes of the Lund University of Lund, Sweden. It notes that the Duterte administration has exacerbated this violence through the promotion of vigilante type of killings that mainly characterizes President Duterte’s war on drugs. The authors believe that this deadly war can fuel another violent election period.
The research on which the article was based covers 13 years, from 2004 to 2017. The authors tallied all electoral violent incidents during those years, and noted the following: (1) Unidentified assassins are largely responsible for the killings of candidates, their campaigners and supporters, and “fruitful investigations” to these killings are rare; (2) Media reporting on election and related violence has become increasingly dangerous, and cited the killings of some journalists and radio broadcasters; (3) Election violence is difficult to monitor and currently falls between the cracks of various international election monitoring initiatives.
The authors’ findings are quite worrisome. We will continue to face this sad reality, given the bizarre twists and turns of the electoral “teleserye” we watch everyday on our small screens.
We watched, highly perturbed, how the President, his daughter, and his unofficial valet/caregiver changed or withdrew their original certificates of candidacy to “adjust” to new political alignments. Sara Duterte resigned from a party she herself founded, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, to become a vice presidential candidate under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Lakas-CMD party. Sen. Bong Go flip-flopped from being a vice presidential hopeful to a presidential wannabe in a matter of weeks. This added a rather dark, insidious plot to the teleserye. Mr. Duterte downgraded his original plan from being president to being senator. Was this an anticipated losing of face just in case his daughter garners higher votes than him?
The plot thickened when Sara Duterte recently announced her “return” to the Hugpong party, with her partymates welcoming her with open arms. But the most bizarre twist was how she was able to wangle not only the leadership of the party she resigned from and returned to, but also that of the new party she joined, Lakas-CMD. Whew!
Where will all these lead us to next? Abangan.
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