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Upcoming elections in Philippines marred by political violence

Updated On: May 11, 2007

Philippine police said the death toll in vote-related violence ahead of the mid-term election hit 100 even as the Philippines goes to the polls on May 14 to elect the 275-seat House of Representatives, half the 24-member Senate and thousands of local government posts.

Elections in the Philippines have traditionally been marred by violence as rival groups use private militias to intimidate voters and despite being placed under special military control by the elections commission, the latest deaths occurred in the northern province of Nueva Ecija. Alex de Guzman, 45, a village councillor, was shot repeatedly as he was riding his motorcycle in Gapan City. In another incident, Nestor Gonzales, 44, the driver of a mayoral candidate in Dulong Bayan town, was shot in the leg and bled to death. In yet another incident on 29 April 2007, police detonated a bomb made from two 81mm mortar rounds found near a shopping mall in Tacurong, in central Mindanao. In addition to this, at least three crude bombs have exploded in the central Mindanao region since 18 April 2007, killing two people and wounding four since April 18.

In response to the violence and fears on the general conduct of elections,  the Asia Foundation is sending most of its foreign election observers to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the hope of ensuring transparency in polling precincts.

Steven Rood, the regional advisor for local governance of the Foundation, said: “The main objective of our foreign observers though is confined in the ARMM. That's where we provided more transparency at the precinct level because we and our Muslim civil society partners believe that in ARMM, it is important to provide transparency at the precinct level,” he said.

Adding to the general perception that elections in Philippines is more of a farce and personality-driven rather than policy-driven, “colourful” candidates add to the excitement. A former military officer, charged in a coup attempt, is running for Senate from jail while on trial, as is another officer linked with several takeover plots who is out on bail. In addition, the election system guarantees 20 percent of the House seats to underrepresented sectors such as farmers, fishermen and laborers and so a retired general, accused of instigating extrajudicial killings, could end up rubbing shoulders with left-wing lawmakers who have burned his effigy in the streets.

Despite the political violence, the influx of foreign direct investments keep up its pace in the Philippines. For example, Texas Instruments has decided to invest one billion dollars to expand its operations in the Philippines. This is a much needed boost to the economy. In 2006, the Philippines attracted just over two billion dollars in foreign investment compared to the 70 billion poured into China.

“What the Texas Instruments deal shows is that the Philippines can compete with the best of them if it wants to,” Robert Sears, the executive director American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, told AFP. Sears also said: “Texas Instruments is comfortable in the Philippines and is looking at the long-term picture.” 

This is probably the biggest investment of its type in the Philippines with one billion dollars invested in a new plant at the Clark Freeport Zone, former home to the biggest US air force base outside America.  Clark Development Corporation has also set aside some 30 hectares (74 acres) for an estimated 500 support industries and suppliers of Texas Instruments that will relocate to the Freeport. 

Indeed, the Philippines is enjoying a period of relative prosperity for the economy marked by rapid growth (by Philippines standards), a rising currency, falling budget deficit and a boom in call-center business. Critics of Arroyo-era growth, however, argue that success is largely the result of Filipinos working abroad and sending home $12 billion a year while local investments remain weak. (10 May 2007)

Sources:

Philippine vote death toll hits 100 (Channelnewsasia, (9 May 2007)

Philippines gets billion dollar confidence vote: analysts (Philippine News, 9 May 2007)

Foreign observers seek electoral transparency in ARMM (INQUIRER.net, 9 May 2007)

Dynasties, celebrities and violence dominate political scene for Philippine elections (AP,  9 May 2007)

JI hand seen in Tacurong blast (AFP, 9 May 2007)

Slaying of member shakes Moro partylist group (Daily Inquirer, 9 May 2007)

Coup leader wants Manila 's Arroyo toppled in poll (Reuters, 9 May 2007)

Five killed in bomb attack in southern Philippines (Reuters, 8 May 2007)

We respect the soldiers’ right to vote (AFP, 8 May 2007)

Filipinos vote, but for what? (AP, 7 May 2007)

Cash, food, knickers used to woo Philippine voters (Reuters, 6 May 2007)