One of the problems with being an outsider here in the Philippines is that I don’t know the local politics.

It’s like a Yank reading nonsense in the UKGuardian about Alabama: there are small things and connections that you don’t know about, so it’s hard to see the picture. So it is fascinating to watch the election for local officials and senators that will be occuring in May.
Elections here are, to put it mildly, dangerous.

Most people in the US are aware of last week’s report on “extrajudicial killing” of left wing activists, but there is a lot less publicity about other killings that occur weekly, usually of a barangay (neighborhood) official who is shot, often by the NPA or by an NPA suspect hired by someone who is mad at them. (The NPA are the local communists who often kill businessmen and government officials who refuse to pay protection money, or who make someone mad. They are quite popular with the poor farmers and unemployed here, because the poor don’t like the businessmen and officials either).

Of course, local politicians often have bodyguards, and when a political or business opponant is killed, often the families suspect the killers are the bigshot’s bodyguards, not the NPA. However, since the NPA often work in their spare time as contract killers, they are blamed for any killing that cannot be proven.
So, when election time comes, you have death threats against those opposing certain officials, and death threats against those who are counting the ballots. When Marcos was president, during one election 300 people were killed in fights, but things have improved since Marcos confiscated private guns.

Locally, one senator was rumored to have spent a tens of thousand dollars for posters and fliers to promote his campaign. Given the disparity of very rich vs poor, with only a few middle class people, you can see how this leads to only the rich being able to run for office.

This makes sense when you realize that a corrupt official can make a lot of money.

So how does someone running for office without a lot of money get known? ABSCBN has a report on using Friendster and the internet to link to people.

Here in rural Luzon, in our small town we have had internet cafes for years, and most of the students are internet savvy. However, for rural farmers and people over 30, it is less likely to be successful.

However, the internet is used by the growing educated middle class who are growing in influence in the Philippines. And advertising and campaigning on line is cheap “and safe” as one campaigner put it.

Getting the news via the internet will enable a bypass of the usual means of campaigns that have in the past discouraged less than affluent candidates. And it is hoped that the information will “trickle down” via discussions and word of mouth to those who do not go on line.

Will it make a difference in this election?
Probably not. But it will make a difference in the future. Word of mouth and internet have showed their growing power in the “hello garci” scandal, where a conversation that may or may not have been about stealing votes ended up being discussed on the internet and sold on CD’s at every palenke.
In the meanwhile, it looks like someone is not taking chances. The Comelec building that houses the election commission, has just burnt down, due to faulty wiring.

Yup. It’s election season.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket

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