More than 60,000 security forces in the Philippines were on high alert Sunday to safeguard ballot papers and polling stations on the eve of the presidential election, after police reported four people killed in an outbreak of violence.
Elections have traditionally been a volatile time in a country with lax gun laws and a violent political culture, but national police said this season has been relatively peaceful.
In one of the worst incidents, four people were killed Saturday in a gunfight between armed supporters of rival mayors in the town of Magsingal in the northern province of Ilocos Sur, police spokesman Brigadier General Roderick Alba said. Four others were injured.
Police from the northern province of Nueva Ecija also arrested two dozen people and seized weapons, including five M-16 rifles, a 12-caliber rifle and 15 pistols, following a shoot-out between the bodyguards of two candidates for office. of mayor of General Tinio.
Five people were injured in the incident, which also left the same number of sport utility vehicles riddled with bullets, Alba said.
More than 18,000 posts, from president to city councilor, up for grabs in the elections.
The son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos seems destined to win the presidential vote with an avalanche of votes, bringing the clan back to the pinnacle of political power.
Human rights groups, Catholic church leaders and opponents see the elections as a defining moment for the country’s democracy, amid fears that Marcos Junior could rule with a heavy fist.
Police, military and coast guard personnel have spread across the archipelago to help secure polling stations and ballot papers, escort election officials and guard checkpoints.
The security deployment involves some 48,000 soldiers and 16,000 policemen, officials said.
“Based on our planning … we are confident that we will have a safe and orderly election,” said military spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala.
There have been 16 “validated election-related incidents” since January 9, including four shootings and one “slight illegal detention,” Alba said.
This compares with 133 incidents during the 2016 presidential election and 60 in the 2019 mid-term polls.
Police spokesman Colonel Jean Fajardo attributed the sharp decline to an increased security presence, as well as military and police operations against “bulk firearms” and private armed groups.
The electoral commission largely bans the carrying of arms during the electoral period which lasts until June 8.
Experts say the explosion of social media, which made it easier to report incidents, and the growing dominance of political dynasties, which stifle electoral competition, have helped to crack down on electoral violence.
In the single deadliest incident of political violence ever recorded in the country, 58 people were massacred in 2009 when gunmen allegedly belonging to a local warlord in the southern Philippines attacked a group of people to prevent a rival from running for office. in the elections.
Thirty-two of the victims were journalists covering the contest, making the attack even the deadliest ever recorded against media professionals.
The introduction of electronic voting in 2010 made the widespread electoral fraud that has historically plagued Filipino elections more difficult.
But Marcos Jr, who still insists he was robbed of victory in the 2016 run for vice president, warned of election fraud in these polls and urged his supporters to be careful.
“We will win as long as you stay awake on Monday, so there won’t be another tragedy,” Marcos Jr told hundreds of thousands of fans during his latest campaign on Saturday.
“A lot of undesirable things happen if we stop paying attention.”