Irony of ‘generally peaceful’ polls | Inquirer Opinion

Irony of ‘generally peaceful’ polls

/ 04:40 AM November 04, 2023

With at least 19 people dead and rampant vote-buying reported by a church-based election watchdog, it sounds like an oxymoron to describe the just-concluded barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections as “generally peaceful” and orderly.

According to the Philippine National Police, all regions in the country—except for Ilocos and Davao which incidentally are the home turf of President Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte, respectively—recorded violent incidents on election day. In fact, the PNP said, such incidents have surpassed the record for the 2013 barangay and SK polls.

The 49 election-related violence this year resulted in 15 people dead and 43 injured, with five deaths recorded in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the PNP said. But the Commission on Elections (Comelec) reported a higher number of fatalities—19—mostly in the BARMM and some areas in Luzon and the Visayas.


Nineteen deaths certainly do not speak of a peaceful and orderly election, especially since the recent polls were for barangays—the smallest government unit in our political system—and not for highly-coveted national posts.


How ironic, since barangay elections—prescribed in our laws as a nonpartisan exercise (in which politicians are asked not to meddle)—have become even more hotly-contested and violent than the local and national polls. What is it about these village posts—where elected village chiefs and councilors receive a measly monthly honorarium of P6,029 to P7,884 on average—that would induce candidates to go for each other’s throats? Is it the prospect of handling millions of pesos from the barangays’ share of the national tax allocation from their local government unit? Or the anticipated perks and power they stand to gain as ward leaders of local officials and politicians come election time?

This is not to say that all those who run for barangay positions do so for reasons other than to serve their constituents and, reasonably enough, use this initial foray into politics as a means to attain higher posts in future elections. All in the name of public service, of course.

The anecdotal evidence however shows how the ugly side of patronage politics has filtered down to the barangay level and turned elections in many parts of the country into a farce, not to mention a micro version of the “3Gs” of traditional politics: guns, goons, and gold.

Rather than being lulled into a false sense of contentment by declaring every election as “generally peaceful,” the Comelec, the PNP, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government should take a closer look at the violence, vote-buying, and other electoral fraud that continue to mar this exercise. This, despite the advances in technology and automated elections meant to hasten vote counting and prevent fraud occasioned by unnecessary delays in manual voting.

A good place to start is the apparent ineffectiveness of the election gun ban. By the PNP’s own record, at least 1,540 guns were confiscated and more than 2,000 individuals were arrested for violating the gun ban. The bigger problem then, and not just during elections, is the continuing inability of law enforcers to control loose or illegal firearms, usually at the hands of warlords and long-entrenched traditional politicians, and criminal syndicates.

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Comelec’s citizen arm, has also released a statement that should help the government come up with long-term solutions to our violent elections. “Vote-buying continues to be rampant, progressing from retail vote acquisition to group acquisition even at the family and barangay level,” the statement said.


Anti-vote-buying remains one of the weaknesses of our electoral system, with only a few cases actually landing in court and usually limited to the proverbial small fry. It has remained an open secret that come election time, money flows freely from candidates to voters through their local lieutenants. Legislation to strengthen the provisions of the election code should be pursued to bring accountability higher up the corrupt system.

The PPCRV also reported incidents of fake voters, “with some voters arriving to find that others had already voted in their place.” The report noted as well that candidates’ watchers were seen assisting voters, and that some ballot secrecy folders contained shaded names—infractions happening under the noses of the election board.

If such violent and fraudulent incidents are allowed to mar the barangay and youth elections, what can we expect come the midterm elections in two years’ time and the next presidential elections in 2028? Recall how doubts linger on the integrity of the 2022 presidential elections because of the reported use of a single internet protocol address to transmit votes to the Comelec transparency server.

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The Comelec must clear up these doubts, and take more determined steps to address violence, vote-buying, disenfranchisement, and other systemic problems that subvert the sanctity of the people’s votes.

TAGS: Barangay elections, Editorial, opinion

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