Bloody comeback: Violence intensified in barangay, youth polls 2023

By Glenn Ferrariz

Barangay elections, despite being the smallest unit of government in the country, should be

closely monitored as the violence has intensified through the years. And given the importance

of the barangay elections in the lives of the people, media should continue to

scrutinize all its aspects.

THE LONG-delayed Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) in 2023 underscored the crucial role of barangay officials in the governance of the country. More than any other agency, the barangays are most intimately involved in the lives of the people and possess the capacity to carve paths for their communities.

More than one million–1.41 million to be exact, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), vied for the positions of barangay chairperson and councilors (“kagawad”). The number beat the record of candidates in 2018 when village-based elections were last held. The 2023 electoral exercise has been described as the most violent competition for village-level seats since 2010.

Even so, the Comelec and the Philippine National Police (PNP), together with the independent electoral watchdog, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, all described the BSKE as “generally peaceful.”

Media reports, however, recorded enough incidents to indicate the widespread violence as connected to the political contest. The evidence also disproved the official claim. In fact, the recorded incidents should have raised enough concerns to drive the government to do something about it.

CMFR monitored 27 online news platforms, and from 155 news reports, CMFR found 59 incidents of attacks against candidates or incumbent barangay officials from January to September 2023. CMFR also noted that most news accounts reported these incidents as separate crime stories, ignoring the pattern of political violence these reflected.

Pattern of killings in local elections

CMFR identified news reports that showed the violence in connection with the BSKE polls.

  • On March 6, published an in-depth report that contextualized the “string of attacks” on provincial executive officials. In a separate report on April 17, tallied attacks on local officials in Negros Oriental since 2016.
  • Rappler listed incumbent and former local government officials killed under the Marcos administration and linked points in media coverage.
  • The Philippine Star’s reports in March and April connected the killings to local elections and identified patterns of attacks by recounting previous cases.

Killings and harassment

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao tallied the highest number of deaths per region at 17, 11 of which only happened on election day. As Rappler reported, the Council for Climate and Conflict Action Asia (CCAA), an organization monitoring conflicts in the region, noted the recent BSKE was the bloodiest election in the region in the last 10 years.

CMFR cited media reports that more than 2,500 teachers in the BARMM region did not show up for election duties, with the previous experience of shootings and threats during elections as the main reason, according to Comelec chairman George Garcia.

SK ballot not exempt from violence

Even more alarming, violence also involved the SK ballot. A 24-year-old Sangguniang Kabataan chairman, Jorlan Bon Sacay, was shot dead in Davao de Oro, three months before the election. Mark Allen Tacbobo, a 23-year-old candidate for SK councilor, was shot dead in Misamis Oriental, an incident closer to the election in October.

Aside from the killings, cases of harassment involving SK candidates were recorded. In Cebu, candidate John Kyle Enero was red-tagged. Posters of Enero linking him to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army were seen around the Cebu City Medical Center and the University of Cebu-Main SHS Campus. Another candidate in Nueva Ecija, Mia Salvador Simon, was also red-tagged.

Persistent killing

Cases after the elections increased the death toll. Roughly a week after the election, PNP reported four killings of newly-elected barangay officials, including a 58-year-old barangay councilor in Pasay City who was shot dead. Other reported victims post-election include:

  • Barangay chairman Paul Albert “Epong” Saquian of Barangay Datu Abdul Dadia in Panabo City.
  • Barangay chairman in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, Rofoldo “Lolong” Dacol.
  • Reelected chairman of Barangay Cawit in Zamboanga City, Serbelio Molina.
  • Barangay official in Ramos, Tarlac, Edita Sarsuela.
  • Reelected barangay chief Melinda Morillo in Mangaldan, Pangasinan.

The CCAA earlier noted that authorities should learn from BSKE 2023 as “the violence in the Oct. 30 polls is merely a prelude to the 2025 elections. It signifies the level and scope of violence that all must be prepared for.”

Media and election coverage

To call the recently held BSKE “generally peaceful” despite the alarming number of deaths signifies the acceptance of violence as a norm, a stance that will not provoke action to counter what is one of the forces that diminishes elections as a political exercise.

Media did not question the Comelec or the PNP for their description of the BSKE. In which case, it failed in its role to call out these agencies for its lack of interest, concern, or capacity to do anything about such a dismal situation.

Violence builds up a culture of fear.  

Violence and fear rob elections of meaning. The vote as an exercise of citizen rights is reduced to a competition of power and might, not the free choice that marks genuine citizenship.

With votes beyond the village level, the stakes will be higher. Filipinos should call on Comelec, the PNP, and election watchdog organizations to do what they can to counter violent forces so candidates can seek office without fear and voters can choose their leaders in peace.

Barangay elections, despite being the smallest unit of government in the country, should be closely monitored as the violence has intensified through the years. And given the importance of the barangay elections in the lives of the people, media should continue to scrutinize all its aspects. MT