05/16/2007, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Violence, fraud and killings mar elections

by Santosh Digal
Despite tight police supervision over national and local elections, more than 120 people die in election-related violence, including 60 candidates. However, the violence seems limited to isolated incidents and less important than in previous polls. Pampanga archbishop laments widespread vote-buying and selling.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Up to 100,000 voters were unable to participate in national polls fearful of violence. Still, despite violence and many murders, the Commission on Elections and international observers said that the process was generally peaceful and orderly. But allegations about vote-buying have led Pampanga bishop to lament that whoever sells his vote, sells his future.

As many as 100,000 voters in the south of the country were unable to cast their ballots due to the threat of violence or lack of ballot papers, some of which were stolen, the Commission said. Moreover, “despite the augmentation of security forces, [many] election inspectors refused to serve because of security reasons,” commission official Rene Sarmiento said.

Such fears are unfounded. On election day, two election workers, both teachers, were killed when unidentified men burned down a school used as a polling place south of Manila. With their death, the poll-related death toll rose to 126. Another 149 people were injured.

None the less, the Philippines National Police (PNP) Director General Oscar Calderon said that recorded elections-related incidents were so far “relatively low” compared to previous elections.

Incidents include the theft of ballot boxes and other material before sunrise yesterday, Election Day, and the killing of some 60 candidates and 15 policemen; 17 other policemen were wounded in violent incidents in Occidental Mindoro, Masbate, and Abra provinces.

Despite the violence and charges of electoral fraud, voter turnout was high reaching 75-80 per cent, compared to 77 per cent in 2004, and 85 per cent in 2001.

Voters had to elect 12 senators (out of 24) and all 275 members of the House of Representatives as well as 17,600 local government officials casting their ballots in 224,667 precincts nationwide.

Henrietta de Villa, who chairs the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, a Catholic Church-based poll watch-dog, said polls were generally peaceful.

Her office fielded about 500,000 volunteers to ensure clean and honest elections and distributed leaflets on the “10 commandments of responsible voting;” among others, urging voters to shun candidates who lead immoral lives, who use force and money to intimidate and those with known records of graft and corruption.

In this election as in the past, the main problem was electoral fraud and vote-buying. For this reason, the Commission on Elections set up a special panel to look into reports of cheating; 110 special courts have also been set up to handle an expected flood of fraud claims.

Meanwhile Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto told AsiaNews that he was alarmed by reports of alleged vote-buying and vote-selling in different parts of the country.

In his pastoral letter titled “Do What is Right: A Pastoral Letter on Vote-Buying and Vote-Selling” which was read during last Sunday mass, he reminded the faithful to heed the 1992 Pastoral Exhortation on Elections issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which condemned vote-buying as a particularly degrading form of cheating.

“For the past several days now we have been receiving reports about people being gathered in cockpit arenas, coliseums, sports complexes and other venues where they receive cash gifts from certain candidates,” Archbishop Aniceto said.

“When you sell your vote, you sell your honour. You become nothing in the eyes of those who buy you. You harm your future and that of your countrymen,” he lamented.

To the people who got money from vote-buyers he said: “Do not allow your conscience to be bound by an unjust deal. [. . .] Repent and be converted to the Lord.”

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