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Violence, Money Dominate Philippine Elections

  • Prospero Laput

Philippines elections are traditionally violent and costly. On May 14th, millions of voters in the Philippines went to the polls to fill more than 18,000 local and national positions. The final results will be announced by the end of the month. VOA takes a look at the campaign in a remote province of the country. For producer Prospero Laput, VOA's Heda Bayron has more.

Elections in the Philippines are fought with money and guns, despite a police officer's warning to a driver that guns are banned in this area.

More than one hundred campaign workers and candidates were killed in the weeks before the election.

It is in the small villages that elections are fought the hardest. Zamboanga del Norte Province ranks among the poorest in a country where about 40 percent of the population survives on a few dollars a day.

One politician says the solution to poverty is the candidate he favors for provincial governor -- Berto Uy. Uy has been the mayor of the provincial capital, Dipolog City. In running for governor of Zamboanga del Norte, Uy boasts of his record of building infrastructure.

But paving roads has made him a target of allegations of corruption because his family is engaged in the construction supply business. Uy dismisses these allegations and says he has only answered the needs of the people.

He says, in impoverished areas, the number one problem is a lack of good roads. The lack of transportation infrastructure, Uy says, means a coconut farmer will lose about 40 percent of potential sales.

A small village in the province has not been reached by either electricity or paved roads. Around noon when it is too hot to farm, many people there gather to bet what little they have in card games.

Dario, a father of four, lives in a small hut. When asked about how he picks a candidate, he says simply he will choose the one likely to win.

Candidates most likely to win are those with massive campaign organizations and the money to meet the financial demands of running.

But not all candidates are willing to sink fortunes into campaigning.

"In this country we pay a lot of money for exposure that I find immoral considering the fact that people remain hungry,” says Doctor Martin Bautista, a senate candidate. “I find it immoral to spend, like, $20,000 U.S. on a 30-second commercial on TV just to make ourselves known."

Bautista is a physician who became well off working in the United States. He moved back to the Philippines with his family to prove that there is hope for improving the political process. But his campaign for the Senate only proved what he already knew -- politics here is often about money, not policy.

"It has become a cottage industry in the Philippines to become a politician,” he says. “And that's why it has become personal; it's become violent because members of somebody's family depend on the master politician for livelihood."

Democracy is prized in the Philippines. As many as 80 percent of those eligible voted in the May 14th election. But many people say the electoral process does little to help the poorest in the country, such as Dario, who says he cannot worry too much about politics.

He says, as long as we eat, that is enough.

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