33 die in violence in barangay polls

By Zyann Ambrosio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 26 2010 12:28 AM | Updated as of Oct 26 2010 09:04 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Thirty-three people have died while 14 others were injured during the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) election period nationwide, police said Monday.

Twenty of the deaths occurred in Mindanao, particularly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Region 12, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP). 

There were no reported cases in the Visayas, while some incidents were recorded in parts of Northern Luzon such as Abra and Masbate in Southern Luzon.

The election period started September 25 for the hotly sought-after posts of village chairmen, council members, and youth officials in the country's 42,000 villages.

As well as giving officials power over small communities, the posts can be a stepping stone to higher office and are often contested by relatives or children of more senior officials as a training run for an eventual succession.

Election Day violence

Two people were killed by assassins on election day, according to police.

Village councilor Valentin Campos died in a hospital after he was shot outside the southern city of Butuan hours before polling was to start, police said.

Two gunmen aboard a motorcycle, meanwhile, gunned down 58-year-old Elpidio Cabatuando, a former councilor, in the northern city of Gapan in Nueva Ecija.

A hand grenade was also thrown in front of a polling precinct in the restive southern province of Maguindanao hours before voting began, forcing poll officials to cancel elections there.

President Benigno Aquino III had appealed to the public to go out and vote despite the violence, saying village officials were important to his anti-corruption agenda.

"What is important, more than anything, is that perpetrators are caught, prosecuted and jailed," he told reporters.

Elsewhere, police in Masbate province said troops at a roadblock seized at least 10 firearms from a "private army" allegedly controlled by a local politician.

"We also received reports of vote-buying and ballot-snatching," said PNP deputy chief for operations, Director Benjamin Belarmino.

He said poll officials in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, another unstable area in the south, did not show up for work amid threats from warring politicians.

Generally peaceful

Despite the deaths, the PNP considers the elections as generally peaceful.  

Police, meanwhile, have arrested 741 people for violating the gun ban. They will face 1-6 years imprisonment if found guilty.

A total of 500 assorted firearms and 26 explosives were confiscated during the election period.

Despite criticisms that police did not do their duty well in implementing the gun ban, the PNP leadership believes that this year’s village election period is more peaceful than the 2007 barangay and SK polls. 

Proof of this is that more people have been arrested this year for illegally carrying firearms, according to PNP spokesperson Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz.

"This year's election, nakaaresto kami ng  741 individuals kumpara sa 395 lang na naaresto noong 2007 elections," he added.

Elections were postponed in 2,341 barangays on Monday, Commission on Elections Commissioner Armando Velasco said.

A total of 1,836 barangays in Region 5 failed to hold elections. 

The postponed elections nationwide affected 1.86 million voters, according to Comelec data.

The elections, which have been rescheduled Tuesday, were reset as a result of chaos resulting from violence, as well as delays in the delivery of election materials.

Police also believe that delayed elections in some parts of the country were caused not by violence but by the effects of recent typhoon Juan and the failure of election materials to be delivered in polling precincts on time. 

The PNP red alert has remained hoisted across the country and it will be up to regional directors to determine if the alert level will be extended up to November 1 in their respective areas, according to Cruz. – with a report from Agence France-Presse