Earlier this month, the Philippines held barangay (village) elections, in which voters flocked to the polls to elect their village leadership. The relatively peaceful election day belied the campaign leading up to it, among the most violent in recent memory. Twenty-two candidates and supporters were killed in the pre-election violence, and at least 588 people were arrested for violating the election’s temporary gun ban. In spite of the recent violence, government officials are optimistic about these polls, with Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brilliantes Jr. commenting that the elections were “more satisfactory” than the last barangay elections held in 2010.
However, even in the election aftermath, the violence has continued. One incumbent barangay chairman, after losing an election for a councilor position within the same district, killed his two sisters and brother in what is believed to be a fit of election-related rage. A recently elected councilor was also shot dead while walking home earlier this week in a politically motivated attack.
The lack of a concrete response to this violence not only leaves politicians and civilians vulnerable to future attacks, but has also greatly shaken voters’ trust and confidence in the government’s ability to maintain peace.
Recent reports from the government suggest that nothing will change anytime soon. The Philippine government continues to maintain that new security measures such as the gun ban have improved overall safety, but the number of deaths during this election period has actually increased since the 2010 barangay elections.
In a barangay, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines, each voter chooses one chairman and seven councilors to lead their unit. While most candidates in barangay elections are listed as nonpartisan on the ballot, the majority of them maintain casual affiliation with a larger national level party. The current president, Benigno Aquino III, belongs to the Liberal Party (LP), which also holds the majority in both houses of Congress. Reports from Comelec suggest that candidates tied to the LP have also won a majority of barangay seats, with the minority party, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), coming in second place.
Ever since democracy was officially restored in the Philippines in 1986, following more than twenty years of authoritarian rule, the country has struggled to maintain long term political stability. Allegations of deep corruption and fraud have constantly rocked the Philippine government, preventing the country from moving forward.
However, with the election of Benigno Aquino III to the presidency, it appears that the situation may finally be changing. Aquino was elected in 2010 on a platform for increased transparency after the death of his mother, Corazon Aquino, a former president and democracy icon. In recent months, however, his government has faced allegations of corruption and graft, with thousands of protestors thronging the streets of Manila to voice their outrage.
While Aquino’s personal popularity ratings continue to remain high, many of his political allies have been accused of fraud regarding a pork barrel program known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, which is designed to subsidize and fund local infrastructure projects. In July of this year, The Philippine Daily Inquirer revealed that several lawmakers, under the leadership of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, have been stealing up to half of the PDAF funding for various infrastructure schemes. Napoles has also been accused of illegally detaining an employee whom she believed was stealing her clients. Over the course of ten years, the government had been defrauded of approximately 10 billion Philippine pesos, or about $232 million. Napoles and several of the other lawmakers involved in this scheme have been charged with plunder, with an additional charge of illegal detention for Napoles.
Consequently, the recent barangay elections were viewed as the first test of the president’s popularity since the scandal broke. The LP’s strong performance in these local elections has shown that Aquino’s clean image has not been completely tarnished by the pork barrel scam.
Aquino should push to legalize pending anti-corruption legislation and create a larger framework in order to coordinate various disparate anti-graft and fraud measures. A more well-organized system can prevent incidents such as this PDAF scam from ever happening again.
The Philippines is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, yet political violence and corruption are crippling the government. Aquino can help push his country to the forefront and set the Philippines on the path to prosperity, but only if he first tackles these major issues currently plaguing his government.