President Rodrigo Duterte appeared close to gaining full control of the Philippine Senate as early unofficial results of midterm elections showed on Tuesday that candidates he was backing were among the winners, despite widespread condemnation of his war on drugs that has killed thousands.
With more than 95 percent of all votes processed by the Commission on Elections, Duterte’s hand-picked candidates appear to have taken a clean sweep of the 12 Senate seats up for grabs, shutting out the opposition that had campaigned hard against Duterte and his policies.
Among the 12 who received the most votes were Bong Go, Duterte’s former personal aide who rose to fame on social media with his selfies with world leaders, and ex-national police chief Ronald dela Rosa, who led the president’s brutal campaign against illegal drugs that, according to official statistics, has left almost 5,300 people dead.
Rights groups have a higher figure of anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000, including deaths of suspects blamed on pro-government vigilantes.
Also among those who triumphed in the senatorial election was Imee Marcos, daughter of the late authoritarian ruler Ferdinand Marcos. Duterte had publicly supported her after she backed his presidential candidacy three years ago.
“While the results of the elections are still unofficial, there appears to be an unstoppable trend toward a resounding victory of the administration’s favored senatorial candidates,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. “Undoubtedly, the Duterte magic spelled the difference.”
“The overwhelming majority of the electorate have responded to the call of the president to support those whom he said would help pass laws supportive of his goal to uplift the masses of our people and give them comfortable lives they richly deserve,” he said.
More than 61 million voters registered to choose half of the 24-member Senate. Thousands of local posts, including governors and mayors, and almost 300 seats in the lower house, were also at stake.
Monday’s vote also saw three of Duterte’s children winning the post for mayor, vice mayor and congressman in his political bailiwick of Davao City, even as Panelo said that the president had previously frowned on families perpetuating dynasties.
Elsewhere, it appears that other large political clans suffered defeat on Monday. Former President Joseph Estrada lost his election bid as mayor of Manila, while his two sons were out of the winning circle in the Senate race. One of the two, Jinggoy Estrada, ran even as he was still facing a charge of plunder for allegedly funneling millions of pesos in congressional funds into a non-governmental organization that he controlled.
Complaints about glitches
While the elections were generally peaceful, according to security authorities, poll officials admitted glitches in some vote-counting machines. Transmission of poll results to the elections headquarters in Manila appear to have bogged down the counting and given rise to questions of fraud.
“We are asking the people to understand, but for our part I think the election was indeed successful,” elections chairman Sheriff Abas told a news conference Tuesday.
But opposition senatorial candidate Gary Alejano slammed the results, as doubts surfaced over what happened in the counting.
“The transparency server, as its name connotes, did not function according to its purpose. The people were left in the dark. Let us continue to find out why,” he said in a statement.
Communist leader accuses Duterte of vote-rigging
Jose Maria Sison, founder of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), accused Duterte of rigging the May 13 elections to deliver to his candidates a false victory in the crucial senatorial race.
“We can therefore expect that Duterte will use his false electorate victory to adopt and implement more draconian measures to suppress the legal democratic opposition, as well as the people’s revolutionary movement,” said Sison, who fled to the Netherlands as a political refugee three decades ago.
CPP’s armed wing, the New People’s Army, has waged war during the past 50 years mostly in the country’s poverty-stricken countryside and hill areas of provinces far from major cities. At least 35,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians have been killed in the fighting.
In 2016, Mr. Duterte – a former student of Sison and a self-described leftist – opened peace talks with the communist rebels and released dozens of detained insurgent leaders as a goodwill measure. But the relationship soured amid Duterte’s allegations that the rebels continued to attack government posts in the south.
Mark Navales in Cotabato City and Joseph Jubelag in General Santos City contributed to this report.