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Ending the Cycle of Electoral Violence in the Philippines

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Official figures released by the Philippine National Police indicate that there were a total of 121 deaths, 176 injuries and two missing person cases in the recently concluded Philippine mid-term elections. The Philippine government needs to take proactive steps to stop the current cycle of electoral violence and ensure citizens’ human rights are protected.
The Philippine election period has officially ended, although the 12th senator has yet to be declared and many local seats are still being contested. As in previous elections, this year’s polls have been marred by violence. According to figures released by the Philippine National Police (PNP), there were a total of 299 casualties in the 2007 election period from 14 January 2007 to 13 June 2007. Of the 299 election-related violent incidents (ERVIs), 121 resulted in deaths, 176 led to injuries and two persons went missing.1  Casualties came from all sectors of society: civilians, candidates, the police and the army.

Election-related violence is a recurring issue in Philippine elections, particularly local elections. Rival political groups use private armed militias to intimidate both political opponents and voters. The 2004 elections claimed 189 lives and left 279 injured, while the 2001 elections involved 111 deaths and 253 injuries. The reduction in the total number of ERVIs in 2007 versus the two previous polls has prompted the PNP to deem this year’s elections relatively peaceful and successful. PNP Directorate for Operations Chief Director Wilfredo Garcia attributed the success to the PNP’s preparation, organisation and forward implementation.2 Though the improvement is laudable, success in this case is questionable.

In its official tally, the PNP only includes incidents from a pool of registered cases that its own task force by its own criteria has “validated” to be politically motivated or election-related. The task force’s discretionary power to validate an election-related incident could lead to an underestimation in the official ERVI count. While the PNP has tallied only 121 election-related deaths this year, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a leading daily that initiated its own count, identified at least 140 election-related deaths. The real number of ERVIs is also obscured by the cut-off date of 13 June 2007. Allegations of cheating have delayed tabulation and proclamation, resulting in numerous ERVIs after the 13 June end-of-election-period date. For instance, as recently as 9 July, a journalist sustained injuries to his head, ribs and arms after he was physically assaulted by supporters of a political family in a contested locality.3 Unfortunately, these incidents are not counted in the official tally of ERVIs, as they did not occur during the official election period.

As a party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Philippine government should take measures, even in non-electoral periods, to reduce the long-term potential for electoral violence. Electoral violence sows fear among the population. It can prevent people from exercising rights enshrined in the ICCPR including the right to peaceful assembly, the right to hold opinions, the right to freedom of expression and the right to vote. The questionable “improvement” in this year’s election period tally and the long history of electoral violence in the Philippines should not be an excuse for the Philippine government to stop its efforts to end electoral violence.

First, the government should ensure that the perpetrators of this year’s ERVIs be brought to justice, whether they are civilians, politicians or government authorities. The government must act to end the “culture of impunity” surrounding ERVIs. Second, the government must take proactive steps to dismantle and disarm the private armed militias that proliferate across the country. It should not wait until the 2010 elections to identify these groups and attempt to control their movements. Third, the government should implement measures to improve governance and reduce graft and corruption at all levels. Many ERVIs are rooted in struggles for illegal “racket” and patronage opportunities to which government offices provide access. By taking proactive and pre-emptive measures, the Philippine government can dramatically reduce the number of ERVIs in the next elections and ensure a more peaceful transition of power.

As this year’s experience has shown, short-term measures made during the election period can only do so much to stem electoral violence. The Philippine government must act now to end the cycle of violence and human rights violations that each new election period brings. Otherwise, the 2010 elections will again be a tragedy for the public.

1 “PNP lists 121 people dead, 176 hurt in ’07 polls” <>
2 “Poll violence this year fewer than ’04, ’01 – PNP” <>
3 “Martinez aides, allies grab his camera, laptop; Junie says sorry, he didn’t know” <>