Killing season

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The election season has started, and so has the killing season.

Yesterday, three aides of a vice mayor and a fourth person were killed and 11 wounded in a roadside bombing in the Basilan capital Isabela City. The improvised explosive device or IED was placed in a tricycle parked in front of the house of Mayor Cherrylyn Santos-Akbar, and set off by mobile phone as the convoy of Vice Mayor Abdubaki Ajibon passed by.

Ajibon was in a van ahead of his back-up escorts who were in a pick-up when the bomb was set off. It was almost exactly the same spot where he also narrowly missed a bomb attack on May 31, 2012. Yesterday’s bombing was staged shortly after Ajibon announced he would run for mayor in May against Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar, who is in her third and final term. Akbar’s candidate for vice mayor is Mayor Cherrylyn, who is also in her last term.

The women are two of the four widows of the late congressman Wahab Akbar, who was killed in an unprecedented bomb attack at the House of Representatives in November 2007. Four others died in the bombing. The ascent of Akbar’s widows to elective office in Basilan gives a new dimension to dynasty building.

Dynasts are among the top suspects in the dozens of murders staged in this country long before the official start of election campaigns, and even months before the filing of certificates of candidacy.

In the races for president and vice president, rivals settle for character assassination. In local contests, rivals resort to outright assassination with impunity.

* * *

Armed groups compound the violence. Security officials have warned of intensified attacks from New People’s Army extortionists as they raise funds for their candidates by demanding protection money from businessmen. NPA extortion is one of the biggest disincentives to investments.

Yesterday, 19 bus passengers were wounded in a bomb explosion in Polomolok, South Cotabato. Police said the IED, triggered using a mobile phone, looked like the handiwork of extortionists demanding protection money from the owners of the Yellow Bus Co.

Politicians resort to murder over elective positions with only a three-year term, although of course this can stretch for nine straight years with re-election. Assassinations have been reported even in places with fewer than 5,000 voters, over positions with pay so modest you wonder why they are considered jobs to kill for.

The November 2009 massacre in Maguindanao was just the worst of the many cases of election-related violence in this country. Esmael Mangudadatu dared to challenge the political stranglehold of the Ampatuan clan in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Mangudadatu paid for it with the lives of his wife and other female relatives, whom he tasked to file his certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor out of the belief that the Ampatuan clan would not harm women. As we all know, it turned out to be a grievously naive belief.

The Ampatuans were also classic Filipino dynasts. In office for a decade, with entire towns in their fiefdom named after family members, they controlled all power and wealth in the ARMM, with lines blurred between public and private funds. They got away with everything from plunder to murder, with the national government in Manila looking the other way in exchange for any number of votes needed in the ARMM during elections.

Their unparalleled impunity made them believe they could get away with the brutal mass murder of 58 people, with 32 of the fatalities media workers.

Although key members of the Ampatuan clan are being held without bail, that kind of mindset persists, in various degrees, among many politicians all over the country.

It’s fascinating to hear security officials trot out the death toll in every electoral exercise as if discussing the weather, with a death toll of 50 considered average nationwide.

Even after the Maguindanao massacre, 54 people were killed, 78 were wounded and 13 went missing in 176 election-related violent incidents from Jan. 10 to June 9, 2010 in connection with the general elections, including 99 shootings and 25 bomb attacks.

This was lower than the 229 cases of election violence recorded from Jan. 10 to June 9 in the 2007 midterm elections. The incidents, including 105 shootings and 16 bombings, claimed 121 lives and wounded 176 people.

In the 2013 midterm elections, there were 81 cases of election violence between Jan. 13 and election day alone, with 50 killed and 65 wounded.

Even races for village posts are violent, with 22 candidates and supporters killed in the run-up to the barangay elections in November 2013. The violence does not end on election day. A loser for barangay councilman murdered his two sisters and brother in what police said was election-related rage while a winning councilor was killed on his way home.

Many foreign observers have asked me how our country can allow this kind of violence to persist, especially to influence the outcome of elections. Truly, we give democracy a bad name.

As we have seen, murderers have no compunction over staging assassinations even in a place of worship. At least former Abra governor Vicente Valera will rot in prison for the assassination of his rival, former Abra congressman Luis Bersamin and a bodyguard as they emerged from a wedding ceremony at Mt. Carmel Church in Quezon City on Dec. 16, the start of the Christmas dawn masses, in 2006. Such violence is a disgrace to the Asian bastion of the Roman Catholic faith.

It’s an even bigger disgrace to the government that is unable to control the attacks.













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