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Despite Machine Glitches, Citizens Struggle to Keep Philippines Election ‘Hotspot’ Peaceful

May 12, 2010

By Haironesah Domado

On election day in the Philippines, The Commission on Elections declared a poll failure in several towns in Lanao del Sur, among them the municipality of Bayang, where a peace covenant signing among local candidates took place in February 2010 to pledge support for the conduct of honest and peaceful elections in the area. While the peace convention provided some protocols for local candidates to refrain from any acts of violence during elections, the breakdown of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in some polling precincts caused disorder among political supporters of the local candidates.

Field staff from The Asia Foundation’s partner NGO Mindanao Dynamic for Culture of Peace (MIDCOP) who were at the polling precinct when the incident happened, reported that only 17 out of 49 PCOS machines had worked properly on the day of election. The functioning machines, however, seemed strategically placed in the polling precincts that favored only one mayoralty candidate, raising objections from other political supporters until a gunshot was heard which prompted the Board of Election Inspectors to leave the precinct areas. Some local leaders claimed the gunshot was meant to defuse the chaos that was starting to build up because of arguments among various supporters, and to provide substantive ground for failure of elections. However, the gunshot managed to leave two civilians wounded, when the bullet went through a house near the polling station.

Local citizens explained to MIDCOP that, in general, the peace convention helped stabilize the tension that naturally takes place among local candidates every election period. Unlike in previous elections, this time candidates could campaign in areas that are known to be the bailiwick of their rival candidates without fear for their security. In the past, fist fights and provocative words exchanged among political supporters (sometimes led by the candidates themselves) were a common scenario in polling areas. This time the only significant commotion was when the PCOS machines malfunctioned. Up until the time of the gunshot, the community was vigilant and committed to have credible elections after the peace convention. (In the past, residents often chose to simply run away during elections due to the risk to their lives.)

Although the gunshot incident may appear extreme, not to mention dangerous, to an outsider, in the eyes of the people of Bayang who have experienced the bitterness of severe internal conflict, firing a warning shot is preferable to enduring a real exchange of fire. For a town that has been stained with raging violence over the years because of ambushes and killings between different clans due to political rivalry, a warning gunshot which resulted in “failure of elections in the area,” may not really be as alarming as it seems. While the greater impact of the peace convention is yet to be tested until after the elections in Bayang are over, it is hoped that those local candidates and their supporters who signed the peace covenant will still fulfill, in the end, its goal of achieving credible, honest, accurate, meaningful, and peaceful elections.

Hyro Domado is The Asia Foundation’s Assistant Program Officer for the Conflict Management Program in the Philippines. She can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions, Elections
Related topics: Peacebuilding in Asia

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In Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia's development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

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