Public office and election-related violence

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The brazen killing of Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe on 22 December 2018 is the latest incident of election-related violence that has occurred in the run up to the May 2019 polls. While the killing of candidates is the most well-known form of election-related violence, it also comes in the form of harassment, intimidation, threats, abductions, gun ban violations and terrorism.

Batocabe, who was running for mayor in the town of Daraga, Albay, was gunned down after attending a gift-giving in the same municipality. He was up against incumbent mayor Carlwyn Baldo who is now tagged as the mastermind of the assassination.

I have released public statements about Rodel Batocabe’s death elsewhere. He was a personal friend and professional colleague. I bring him up in this column not just to excoriate those responsible for his death, but also because his murder is another reminder that despite its democratic gains, the Philippines continues to struggle with corruption and abuses of power.

After all, the Philippines is no stranger to cases like the killing of my friend. In fact, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has handled a little over 40 killings involving candidates and incumbents per election period since 2007. Five months before the May 2019 elections, the PNP already recorded 12 mayors and seven vice-mayors killed for reasons they suspect are related to the coming elections. Batocabe is the first congressman to be killed before the 2019 elections.

Think back to the previous election periods and I’m sure you’ll think of more examples. Here are a few: Congressman Luis Bersamin was shot on the steps of a church right after his niece’s wedding; Congressman Wahab Akbar was killed in a bombing in the Batasang Pambansa itself, and in 2009, we were shaken by the slaughter of 58 people in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

These examples show how far some people will go to gain or hold onto power which is infuriating not just because they are willing to kill. Public office is exciting and fulfilling, to be sure, but the people who kill their political rivals in order to win are not doing it because they want to serve the people. They do it because they do not truly respect the democratic process. They do it because they want power for their own selfish reasons.

I’m sure politicians who plot to kill their rivals are not thinking of the welfare of their people when they scheme their murderous schemes. They’re thinking of control over their locality’s contracts and licenses, money from loans from government-controlled corporations, infrastructure projects, discretionary funds and other opportunities to gain. It’s tragic how power can be so misused.

Philippine elections have been marred by violence for years. It is high-time that we address this by implementing stricter rules, imposing stiffer penalties and demanding swift action on all election-related violence. More importantly, if you know of candidates who use violence to try and win elections, then please do not vote for them.

After all, public office, though tainted by the wrongdoing of corrupt and greedy individuals, is still a noble job. It is an avenue to effect change for the betterment of the lives of all Filipinos.

It is intended for those who want to serve but are willing to bow to the will of the people, even when that means losing in an election.

What are your thoughts?

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