Reports on widespread violence belie ‘generally peaceful’ 2023 elections

WITH THE barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections held last month after five years, 1.41 million Filipinos vied for the village-level posts nationwide, a much higher number of candidates compared to the 2018 elections. The Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Philippine National Police, and even an independent election watchdog – the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting – described the polls as “generally peaceful,” despite evidence that the violence had been widespread way before the actual elections took place.

CMFR reported in a previous monitoring of 27 online news platforms that from January 1 to September 20, 2023, there were 59 incidents of political violence involving incumbent barangay officials and candidates for this year’s elections. These 59 violent incidents, often carried out as gun attacks, left 63 victims, only 12 of whom survived.

In a November 12 report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, police spokesperson Colonel Jean Fajardo said the police recorded 96 election-related incidents since the election period officially began on August 28. Fajardo said 26 people died and 96 were wounded. Citing police data on such incidents in past elections, Inquirer’s Dexter Cabalza said this year’s elections were “poised to be the most violent barangay election since 2010.”

Highest in Bangsamoro

Rappler cited a watchdog’s disapproval of the positive feedback on the elections. The Council for Climate and Conflict Action Asia, which monitors conflicts in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said the region tallied 17 deaths — the highest per region — since the start of the campaign period on October 19. Eleven of the killings happened on Election Day alone.

The council took exception to what Ray Sumalipao, Comelec chief in the Bangsamoro region, called a “generally peaceful, honest, orderly, and credible election,” saying this observation “does not explain what happened in the Bangsamoro, nor what did not happen.” The council further noted that the latest barangay polls were the bloodiest election in the region in the last 10 years.

Targeted Youths

The violence itself is alarming enough but the media coverage, which was largely limited to reporting individual incidents, also missed highlighting an alarming finding: Sangguniang Kabataan candidates were also targeted in violent attacks.

In July, online media and TV5’s morning newscast Frontline sa Umaga reported the death of 24-year-old Sangguniang Kabataan chairman Jorlan Bon Sacay in Davao de Oro, three months ahead of the election. While the motive was not determined, media reports noted how Sacay devoted himself to public service, according to his aunt who was also his guardian. GMA Regional TV One Mindanao reported that Mark Allen Tacbobo, a 23-year-old candidate for Sangguniang Kabataan councilor, was shot dead in Misamis Oriental on October 19.

Aside from the killings, the harassment of SK candidates was also recorded in Cebu. Rappler reported on October 27 that candidate John Kyle Enero was red-tagged. Rappler said posters of Enero linking him to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army were seen around the Cebu City Medical Center and the University of Cebu-Main SHS Campus. These were allegedly made by a group called the Cebu Coalition Against Communist Terrorists.

Enero, who is also chairperson of the Kabataan Partylist Cebu Chapter, believed it was an attempt to silence him as an activist running for office. He told Rappler that a colleague running for barangay councilor in Nueva Ecija was also red-tagged.

The persistent violence during the elections prompted teachers, who also serve as poll watchers, to back out from their duties. Media reports said over 2,500 teachers didn’t show up in the Bangsamoro region alone. According to the report from GMA Integrated News, Comelec chairman George Garcia cited the teachers’ previous experience of shootings and threats during elections as the main reason for their refusal to show up for poll duty. Ten electoral board members in the Bicol region and 29 volunteers in Abra also backed out.

All these concerns and distress calls from teachers are rooted in multiple reports of killings, harassment, and threats, among many others, that belie the government’s assertion that the October elections were “generally peaceful.” The conduct of elections cannot be assessed objectively by government functionaries like those from the Comelec. Reports by media and watchdogs are a much accurate gauge.