Ah, it’s election time in the Philippines, and the US Embassy has warned us:

In a travel advisory posted on its website, the US State Department urged extreme caution and raised concerns about possible election-related violence.

“Sporadic violence throughout the Philippines is also possible before and after the May 10 national and local elections and the June 30 inaugurations,” it said in its travel warning.

Violence?

Much of what they warn about is the low level violence in the south: Kidnapping for money, bomb attacks, and attacks on foreigners to make headlines.

In our area, we have the remnants of the communists, but the carrot and stick approach has pretty well lowered this threat to less than that of criminal attacks.

So no political violence in our area, right?

Not so fast.

The dirty little secret to Philippine politics is that there is money to be made from political office: no one is dishonest, of course. Politicians who arrange you to get a contract know that you will be so grateful for their help that you will undoubtedly give them a small gift to thank them for their help. How small a gift? Well, the going rate is about 20 percent of the contract, but what’s a few percentage points between friends?

Another secret is that families rule. If one member of the family runs for office, his whole family, extended family, and those who owe loyalty to the family back him. This last group includes their employees, and their ex tenant farmers (who now own their own land, thanks to land reform, but still have patronage ties to the family) and their cousins to the Nth degree, all of whom will now benefit by being offered jobs, contracts, or extra gifts at fiesta times.

Traditionally, the feudal landlord took care of his people: nowadays, with land reform or modern industry, we still see this loyalty is kept alive by gifts and fiestas; in modern politics, this degenerates into vote buying.

The going payment for a vote is usually five hundred pesos, but in our town, the rate is reported to be higher. Why? Well, because the mayor is under indictment, and so his wife is running in his place.

Which brings us to the third secret: a little persuasion goes a long way if it includes threats of violence.

But the Bishops are right on top of it. According to the local paper, the Nueva Ecija Journal:

Local political leaders headed by Gov. Aurelio M. Umali and Vice Gov. Edward Thomas F. Joson signed a “Tipan ng Kapayapaan” for honest, orderly and peaceful elections in rites held at the Maria Assumpta Seminary last March 25…

Article then goes on to list a long list of local politicians, with some glaring exceptions:

Meanwhile, Bishop Bancud expressed frustration over the failure of some candidates to attend the signing of the peace covenant….

He mentioned Jaen Mayor Antonio Prospero Esquivel who was involved in the April 26, 2007 shoot-out in his town between his supporters and those of Rep. Antonino. Two persons died in that incident while 17 other were wounded, including two of the mayor’s sons. 

The mayor of our town isn’t listed either, even though he is under indictment for trying to kill a rival.

The government is trying their best to keep things under control. As the Philippine Inquirer notes:

Recently, local officials from Makati City and Nueva Ecija have asked the Comelec to put their areas under its control following shooting incidents and other forms of harassment.

Other ways that the government is trying to stop the election violence includes reassigning cops in high risk areas, confiscating illegal guns (11 so far in our area, a drop in the bucket), going after “private armies”, and changing the way of voting from paper ballots to electronic counting machines.

There is a quaint trust in machinery to be fair and honest, but for this election, at least, the “learning curve” on how to thwart the machine might allow an honest election.

So in the meanwhile, the sound cars are blaring election slogans in the streets, the walls are all posted with election postings, and the poor people are trying to decide who to vote for.

For President, Erap (Ex president Joseph Estrada) is beloved, but many figure that NoyNoy (Aquino, son of former president Cory and beloved martyr Ninoy) is a better bet for an honest president.

But right now, locals have other things on their mind.

We are in the middle of rice harvest (dry season crop) and most folks are taking off from their day job to help harvest the family fields.

But once the harvest and the May 1 fiesta is over, we expect to see more cops on the street, or maybe even the military, to keep the peace, and probably some foreigner observers to make sure the election isn’t stolen.

And everyone is crossing their fingers that there won’t be a brownout in the midst of election day to mess up the newfangled voting machines.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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