Philippine polls body assures clean elections, tight security


MANILA, AFP

The hotly-contested general election in the Philippines next week will be “clean, credible and orderly” even though it threatens to be the bloodiest so far, a top election official said Wednesday.

Alfredo Benipayo, the recently-appointed chairman of the independent Commission on Elections (Comelec), said voting would proceed as scheduled on Monday amid tight security from the military and police.

The elections take place two weeks after the worst bloody riots in 15 years hit Manila during an alleged bid by supporters of jailed ex-president Joseph Estrada to seize power from his successor Gloria Arroyo.”We will try to make this elections as clean, credible and orderly as possible” despite various constraints, Benipayo told AFP.

More than 34 million Filipinos are eligible to vote in the triennial elections to fill seats in the Philippine Congress and key posts in provincial, city and town governments.

The polls are being touted as a referendum on the fledgling government of Arroyo, whose candidates are to fight her jailed predecessor Estrada’s opposition coalition.

Some three billion pesos (US$60 million) have been allocated to run the elections in one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies.

With five days left for the event, complaints are piling up of missing ballots and fraud. The seven-member Comelec itself is split between Arroyo and Estrada allies.

Benipayo, a former judge known for his integrity and courage and who was appointed to his job only a month after Estrada was toppled in a January popular uprising, said he wanted the polls held “with no major glitches.”

“What complicates the election is that unlike Singapore or Hong Kong which are compact and small territories, we have an archipelago of 7,000 or so islands and we have to reach all these places — some of them by small boats,” he said.

But analysts say the biggest concern is election-related violence and killings. President Arroyo herself seems worried by the killings of several of her party’s candidates by communist guerrillas, sources said.

The leading Philippine Daily Inquirer on Wednesday expressed fear that “this year’s elections may yet be the bloodiest in living memory.”

As of May 7, a total of 38 people have been killed and 54 wounded in 53 incidents of election related violence, police said.

In the 1995 elections, 42 people were killed but the number of fatalities came down to 38 in the last polls in 1998.

“With the elections less than a week away, it doesn’t require a crystal ball to see violence escalating in the days ahead,” the Inquirer said.