This year’s barangay elections sent the country abuzz as candidates from approximately 42,028 barangays vied for positions in their respective local governments. Within the span of eight hours, around 54 million Filipinos flocked to polling precincts last October 28 in an effort to exercise their right to democratically select local government unit (LGU) representatives.
Worse than last time?
It cannot be denied that come election season, the Philippines becomes a hotbed of scandals and issues. The recent elections have been no different in this regard, with the Philippine National Police claiming that the violence in this year’s elections has been worse than that in previous years.
According to a report by Inquirer.net, Philippine National Police (PNP) Public Information Chief Ruben Theodore Sindac said that from September until October 27, the day before the election, a total of 64 incidents of election-related violence was recorded, with 22 people killed. This is higher compared to the 25 recorded incidents and 15 deaths in the 2010 local elections.
This election season has likewise been besieged by incidents involving massive vote buying, ballot-snatching and on-site shooting. An Inquirer.net article relates that a large number of such cases have been reported in several regions across Luzon, with the amounts being given by candidates ranging from P20 to as much as P2,000 per voter.
Despite these, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has regarded the elections as generally peaceful and orderly, dismissing the previous incidents as ‘very minimal’. PNP seems to agree with COMELEC, after announcing that of the 46 incidents during the elections, only seven were verified to be election-related after further investigation.
Originally, as per RA 9340, the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections should be conducted simultaneously every three years, but as of last month, the House of Representatives and Senate ratified an amendment to the said law which called for the postponement of the SK Elections, giving Congress more time to decide whether it would be abolished or not.
The revisions also stated that all current SK officials would not retain their positions for the longer term, and would end their term on November 30 as originally scheduled, nor would there be any appointments thereafter. Should the SK continue to exist, the SK elections will instead be held between October 28, 2014 and February 23, 2015.
Many view this development in the SK story as a step forward. Caloocan City Representative Edgar Erice, one of the primary authors of the bill calling for its abolition, sees it as a stride towards much needed reforms in the system, sharing in a Philippine Star article that the move “shows that lawmakers are determined to change the present system of youth participation in governance.”
Ruby Baviera, a kagawad hopeful of District 4 Barangay 426, Sta. Mesa, Manila shares that she wishes to hone in on her barangay’s cleanliness and transparency campaigns once she assumes office. “Gusto ko i-promote ang cleanliness dito sa barangay na ito. Dapat ang kalye na dinadaanan natin ay parang napapanatiling malinis. [I want to promote cleanliness in our barangay. For instance, roads should always be kept clean.],” she says of her future cleanliness programs.
The barangay, despite being a relatively small administrative unit, still prides itself in being a stronghold of citizen democracy. More than this, barangays form the major framework of the government, and as lawyer Rona Caritos of Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) cautions, actions at the local level can potentially have a “snowball effect” on higher levels in the hierarchy. This snowball effect is the microcosmic impact of barangay dynamics which can influence higher levels in the government’s administrative hierarchy.
The entire Philippine political institution can be analyzed on a microscale, which we refer to as the barangay. Lydia Villanueva, also a resident of Barangay 426, believes that the key to winning barangay elections is by having a lot of acquaintances. “[Ang] mga kagawad ay kinakailangan kilalanin muna nila mga residente na sakop ng kanilang barangay, para sa ganoon sigurado sila na marami silang makakalap na boto.” [To be a kagawad, the person must be acquainted with all the residents within their jurisdiction, so as to ascertain that they would garner many votes.]
She adds that in deciding on who deserves to win office, it is important that the candidate is well-prepared for what he or she intends to do upon winning “Masasabi ko sa sarili ko na alam niya talaga ang kanyang plataporma at walang paligoyligoy ang kanyang sagot. Makikita mo talaga na alam niya talaga ang kanyang sinasabi. [I can be confident that that specific candidate is fully aware of his or her plans as an elected official, and knows how to properly respond to questions directed at her answer without beating around the bush.]
The perpetuation of violence in Mindanao has notably caused some residents to reluctantly proceed to their respective voting precints, for the fear that they would be randomly shot while participating in this years’ annual barangay elections. According to reports from GMA Network website, PNP chief spokesperson Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor says, “The presence of threat groups such as the Abu Sayyaf group and the New People’s Army has made the elections in Mindanao a constant risk.”
The presence of these militant groups constantly threatening and undermining the local elections has been a common occurrence in the past few years. It still remains a question on why such groups would go to the extent of deliberately harming innocent voters who are conducting a peaceful election.
Zamboanga City, meanwhile, has yet to conduct elections due to the recent attack by the Moro National Liberation Front. Some public schools which were to be used as voting precincts were reported to have been demolished in the middle of hostilities between the MNLF and the military, while thousands of residents were displaced. Because of this, COMELEC voted to conduct their local elections five days prior to the expiration of the term of incumbent officials, November 25.