At least 33 people have died in violence in the lead up to Monday’s village elections in the Philippines, when Filipinos cast their votes to choose hundreds of thousands of village officials and youth representatives, the national police said.
The deaths were recorded in some 36 “election-related violence” logged from the period beginning April 14 to May 14, when millions of Filipinos cast their votes in almost 42,000 villages across the country, national police chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said.
Seventy-four people had also been wounded in shooting and stabbing incidents, he said.
Albayalde said that in the last village elections in 2013, 109 people were killed in the same period in review.
About a million candidates are vying for more than 670,000 electoral posts, from village council seats to youth representatives.
“Hopefully, the numbers won’t rise,” he said. “The guidance of the president is to make it safe and clean. So we are doing everything to make it safe as possible,”
Election violence is nothing new in the Philippines, where bitter rivalries particularly in far-flung provinces often end up in shootings and even death.
Village elections are important because whoever wins technically commands votes for national posts. President Rodrigo Duterte postponed the village elections last year, citing the possibility - though unfounded – that drug traffickers could be funding the election campaign of some candidates.
Former congressman, 2 bodyguards shot dead
Albayalde said police were also investigating whether the assassination Sunday night of ex-Rep. Eufranio Eriguel and his two bodyguards were related to the polls.
But initial reports seem to suggest so. Eriguel was attending a political event related to Monday’s polls when men in two separate vehicles opened fire. Eriguel and his two bodyguards were immediately killed, police said.
Eriguel’s wife, Sandra Eriguel, is the incumbent representative of their home province. She was with her husband when the incident happened, although police said she was unscathed.
This was not the first attempt on the couple’s life. During the 2016 Presidential and National elections, both survived a car bomb that hit their convoy.
Duterte had earlier identified Eriguel as among the politicians allegedly protecting and helping drug traffickers in the country. But Eriguel was later cleared by the government’s drug-enforcement agency.
Three other mayors who were also in Duterte’s list were killed by police in what they claimed were legitimate operations. Another local official in the central Philippines who was also on Duterte’s list was ambushed Sunday, but survived.
“We are looking at many angles here,” Albayalde said of Eriguel’s murder. “As of this time, it is under investigation.”
Police were investigating whether the attacks on Eriguel and Cebu City Mayor Vicente Loot were related to their alleged drug activities, Albayalde said.
Meanwhile, police in the southern region of Mindanao said that a village chief died after he was ambushed allegedly by his rival in the town of Opol, in Misamis Oriental province. Eleazar Zafra was declared dead upon arrival at a hospital after he was ambushed Sunday night.
Police said two gunmen had been arrested, and Zafra’s political rival, Sino Dragon, surrendered hours after the incident.