Philippine police have stepped up security to curb violence ahead of the May 14 national elections. At least 88 people have been killed so far in what officials say is an alarming trend. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila
Political observers say the overt and calculated nature of the violence is shocking. In one case, a mayoral candidate was shot to death in front of an elections commission office in Cebu town. In another incident, in Abra province, six supporters and relatives of a mayoral candidate were gunned down in their car.
While unlicensed weapons, private militias and weak law enforcement are features of the Philippine political scene, the recent killings have taken the violence to a new level. Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento told ABS-CBN television the open disregard of authority is troubling.
"There is a new dimension in these political killings," said Sarmiento. "One is, it is being committed in broad daylight. And number two, in the presence of so many witnesses."
Police have stepped up security in reaction to the violence. National Police spokesman Samuel Pagdilao says authorities are checking closely on the movement of firearms and private militias.
"We have intensified our patrol operations, that means more police visibility," he said. "Then we have put in more checkpoints on a 24-hours, seven-day-a-week basis."
President Gloria Arroyo has called on the military to help with election security. Troops will be deployed on the day before the May 14th vote in trouble spots to support the police.
Filipinos are electing thousands of national and local officials, including the entire House of Representatives and half of the Senate. Analysts are watching the House of Representatives races most closely - twice the House has voted down bids to impeach President Arroyo. A significant opposition gain in the House could mean a third impeachment effort, however this is seen as unlikely.
The 2004 presidential race was scarred by violence. More than 140 people were killed in election-related incidents in one of the bloodiest votes since dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from power in 1986.