A tradition of violence
As the campaign for national positions officially kicked off last Tuesday, the Philippine National Police identified a total of 701 election hotspots.
There are so many areas tagged as potential flash points for election-related violence that they have to be classified under different categories and color-coded, like weather disturbances, from yellow to orange to red. In Metro Manila, the cities of Caloocan, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Manila and Pasay have been classified as “yellow” hotspots.
Whether the hotspots are “areas of concern,” of “immediate concern” or of “grave concern,” what matters for the public is what the government will do about the threat of trouble.
Such classifications have been made during previous elections. Yet violence marred all the electoral exercises – from armed harassment of voters and partisans to the contract killings of political rivals. A death toll of 80 is not unusual during an election period in this country.
Should this become a tradition in Philippine elections? It doesn’t have to be; it shouldn’t be allowed to happen. If hotspots can be identified, resources can be boosted in these areas to prevent violence from escalating and undermining the democratic process.
A critical component of the effort is cracking down on loose firearms. Apart from conducting random police checkpoints, shore patrols can be intensified to prevent the smuggling of guns through coastal areas. The Philippine National Police must not hesitate to go after the private armies of political kingpins. Police bodyguards assigned for a long time to a particular politician must be pulled out.
An effective deterrent to violence is the arrest and punishment of those responsible, from the triggerman to the mastermind. Both the national police and judiciary must do their part in delivering a convincing message that there is no room for violence in Philippine elections.