Troops and police were on full alert Monday as Filipinos voted in village elections nationwide after 22 candidates and supporters died in the pre-poll violence that is an unsettling hallmark of Philippine politics.
Twenty-seven other people have been wounded in violence linked to pre-election rivalries, mostly in shootouts, national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac said. At least 588 people have been arrested for violating an elections gun ban, with police confiscating nearly 500 firearms, 4,000 rounds of ammunition, 191 knives and 68 grenades.
Fifteen people were killed in village election violence in 2010, Sindac said.
Government troops and police have stepped up security in about 6,000 of 42,028 villages nationwide considered security hotspots due to a history of electoral violence or attacks by Muslim and communist insurgents or al-Qaida-linked militants.
"Our elections in the past have always been marred by untoward incidents," military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said, adding that government forces would guard against "spoilers to this democratic exercise."
More than 800,000 candidates are vying for chairmanships and other posts in urban and rural villages, locally called barangays — the Philippines' smallest political units, where violence and fraud are as much a concern as they are in elections for higher office.
More than 54 million Filipinos have registered to cast their votes.
In the latest violence, unidentified men opened fire on a police car carrying an elections officer and policemen Sunday, setting off a gunbattle that wounded the poll official, two policemen and a civilian in Palanas town in central Masbate province, police said.
Police arrested the son of a candidate for village chairman and 16 other supporters, some of them armed with shotguns and pistols, for allegedly threatening a rival candidate in southern South Cotabato province, police said.
In the country's worst election violence, 58 members of a political clan and media workers were ruthlessly shot to death in a 2009 massacre allegedly plotted by a rival clan with its armed militias to maintain their political control over southern Maguindanao province. The accused clan members have denied any wrongdoing. Among the dead were at least 31 media workers. It was the single worst killing of journalists in the world.
Officials have postponed Monday's elections in central Bohol province, which was devastated by a strong earthquake on Oct. 15 that killed more than 200 people. Voting was also postponed in southern Zamboanga city, where Muslim rebels occupied coastal villages and took scores of residents hostage in a three-week standoff last month that killed more than 200 combatants and civilians.