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2007 Philippines General Election: Challenge of Peace

Lhyn Garcia

 

From my correspondent in Manila, Lhyn Garcia

 

The Philippine midterm elections where held on May 14, 2007 in a relatively peaceful atmosphere. Of course, during the months preceding the elections there were many violent incidents in which, a total of 126 people were killed, and another 148 people were wounded. Many of the killings have been classified as political assassinations.

G.M.A.However, this is considerably less than the 189 people that were killed during the lead up to the 2004 election. The Director General of the Philippine National Police, Oscar Calderon was quoted as saying: “We have noted a relatively peaceful situation nationwide, and I am confident that this will be the ultimate outcome until after the entire election process is completed”.

All the seats in the Philippine House of Representatives were open for election and twelve of the twenty four senate seats were contested. The 2007 Elections are called the Philippine midterm election because the election is held half way through President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s current six-year term. Representatives are each elected for three year terms. The senators elected during the 2007 elections will join the elected senators of the 2004 elections and will make up the 14th Congress of the Philippines.

Political parties that contested the 2007 election included:

Team Unity. Team, is an acronym for “Together Everyone Achieves More”.

Team Unity, is a coalition party composed of supporters and former critics of the current Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Team Unity hopes to be able to claim several Senate seats in order to consolidate President Arroyo’s leadership and allow the unhindered passage of her legislative programs. It also aims to protect her from any impeachment attempts by the political opposition after the midterm elections.
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Team Unity, is composed of several of the country’s major political parties and includes, Lakas-Christian-Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), Liberal Party (Atienza Wing), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), and the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP).

The campaign team of Team Unity is headed by veteran political strategist Reli German (campaign manager), Tourism Secretary Ace Durano (spokesperson) and Ike Rodriguez (campaign director).

Genuine Opposition

The United Opposition Coalition was created by Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay on June 2005 to unite all politicians who wish to impeach Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The UNO started scouting candidates for the Senate as early as October 2006 to claim a large share in the Senate seats. On January 2007, UNO started short listing its nominees after a large number of interested personalities wanted to join the opposition.

The UNO changed its name on February 12, 2007 at the Club Filipino in San Juan, Metro Manila, to “Grand and Broad Coalition” (GBC). On February 15, 2007 the group changed its named again to “Genuine Opposition”, after a meeting with Senate President, Manny Villar, in his office in Las Piñas. Though the Senate President, Manny Villar and Senate Majority Leader, Francis Pangilinan are running under the Opposition, they remain Independent Candidates like in the Philippine general election, 2001. Then on February 28, 2007, the Genuine Opposition dropped Francis Pangilinan as its Adopted Candidate.

Among the issues are the on going efforts by the Administration and others to amend the Philippine Constitution to shift the country from a bicameral and presidential system to an unicameral and parliamentary system, and by the opposition to oust President Arroyo through various means. The opposition in this case includes the UNO as well as other groups and individuals that are not in the UNO.
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A spokesman for the Armed Forces, reported that in order to maintain peace and to quickly contain any outbreaks of violence, fifty-four military units were deputized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and deployed to hotly contested areas on Monday, election day.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro, the deployments included: two infantry divisions, one joint task force, 11 infantry brigades, and 29 infantry battalions from the Philippine Army; and three brigades and 11 battalions from the Philippine Marines. Based on the normal size of the the Army and Marine units, the number of troops contained in the 54 units would be about 20,000.

The troops were spread throughout the following provinces: Quezon; Masbate, Sorsogon, Western Samar, the Zamboanga provinces, Zamboanga City, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Campostella Valley, Sarangani, Davao Oriental, Davao Del Sur, Cotabato, Agusan Del Sur, Surigao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, and the Lanao provinces.

Communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas and private armed groups were monitored in the said areas, the spokesman said.

“The Comelec has issued Resolution 7913 that deputizes 54 military units for the election,” Lieutenant Colonel Bacarro told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo. “They were deputized to thwart strong armed threats. They have been deployed in areas where strong armed threats have been monitored,” he added.

In another move to combat fraud at the polling booths, in addition to COMELEC endorsed foreign observers, an independent team of international observers from ten countries documented the conduct of the local elections from the ground starting May 14, observing areas and provinces that were hit by fraud and violence during the 2004 Presidential polls.
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The team of twenty-five (25) foreign observers trooped to thirteen critical poll hotspots in eight regions in the Philippines on the election weekend as part of the People’s International Observers Mission (People’s IOM). Aside from observing the general conduct of the elections, the People’s IOM paid special attention to possible cases of massive fraud and violence against progressive party list organizations critical of the Macapagal-Arroyo government. The People’s IOM also monitored the showdown which, loomed between the administration and the opposition in the senatorial elections.

The People’s IOM was convened by civic-minded and concerned Filipinos in cooperation with electoral watchdogs such as Kontra Daya, the PPCRV, Teachers Hotline of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Lawyers Monitoring Groups.

Foreign observers from Canada, USA, Japan, Myanmar, Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Norway, Belgium, Germany and Scotland covered the elections. The delegation included journalists and media correspondents, members of the academe, visual artists, students, civil libertarians, clergy, trade unionists, and officials of non-government organizations. The foreign observers were accompanied by a documentation team which, comprised of independent audio-visual organizations, people’s organizations, and human rights watchdogs to the following critical hotspots and regions:

Mindanao (Region XI and ARMM): The Peoples IOM visited provinces, such as Lanao del Sur, which were cited in the controversial “Oplan Mercury Rising” disclosures and the wiretapped conversations between President Arroyo and former election commissioner, turned congressional candidate, Virgilio Garcillano; where massive electoral fraud and vote-rigging allegedly took place in the 2004 Presidential elections.

National Capital Region (NCR): Delegates observed the elections in vote-rich and militarized urban poor communities in Tondo and Quezon City and Makati City where the camp of opposition figure Mayor Jejomar Binay’s camp is pitted against Arroyo’s allies.
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Central Luzon (Region III): Targeted for close observation were President Gloria Arroyo’s electoral bailiwicks in Pampanga, where her son ran for a second congressional term and where administration allies were pitted against a priest in a three cornered gubernatorial race, and areas in Nueva Ecija, where human rights violations and election violence continue even after the province was put under COMELEC control.

Southern Tagalog (Region IV): The delegation conducted visits to heavily militarized areas in Quezon Province, where human rights violations and acts of political repression occurred. Assassination attempts against local coordinators of progressive party list organizations, such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela, and Anakpawis have also been reported in this area.

Also visited by the People’s IOM were heavily militarized areas in the Bicol Region (Region V), Central Visayas (Region VII), Quezon Province, and Cebu, another of President Arroyo’s bailiwicks in the South.

President Arroyo has brought about a most welcome change to the Philippine election process. By employing stringent measures, she has enabled voters to participate in a peaceful, honest and fraud free election. The 2007 election has been a test for the President and Philippine democracy, the results will surely inspire the nation to unite and strive for peace.

The rest of the world has also cast a watchful eye on the 2007 elections in the Philippines, and the success of the strategies employed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will inspire confidence and encourage overseas investment in our countries long term economic projects.

The 14th Congress appears to be similar to the previous congress. The President’s opponents will dominate the senate, so she can expect to have some potential obstacles to overcome during the remainder of her term, even though one might expect that her economic reforms would gain full support from the senators. However, the success of any moves to impeach President Arroyo in the future would be quite remote, as any impeachment complaint must come from the lower house.

Speaking at a conference just a few days after the elections President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo described the results of the elections as a victory for the country’s economy. With her supporters having control of the lower house, President Arroyo declared that she can focus her attention on economic reforms that will make the Philippines a major Asian investment destination.

During the Philippines Presidential State of the Nation Address of Tuesday, July 24, 2007 President Arroyo, spoke of the achievements that have been effected during her term and the challenge that faced her and the Philippine nation in the years to come.

By introducing certain tax reforms and careful budgeting, poverty will be marginalized and the marginalized raised to a robust middle class. By 2010, the Philippines should be well on its way to achieving the hallmarks of a modern society, where institutions are strong.

The Government has been investing hundreds of billions of Pesos in human and physical infrastructure. The next three years will see record levels of well thought out, and generous funding for various projects.

The President also spoke of the investments in bringing peace to Mindanao; in crushing terrorism wherever it threatens regardless of ideology; and in putting a stop to human rights abuses, whatever the excuse.

After providing details of the many improvements to the country’s infrastructure during her term in office, the President outlined her government’s budgeting strategies that will fund the P1.7 trillion Medium Term Public Investment Program.

In her concluding address President Arroyo said: “It is my ardent wish that most of the vision I have outlined will be fully achieved when I step down. It is my unshakeable resolve that the fundamentals of this vision will by then be permanently rooted, its progress well advanced and its direction firmly fixed with our reforms already bearing fruit.”

This statement in itself, is a challenge to all of us to unite and strive to make the President’s wish a reality, so that all citizens will benefit from the prosperity that these economic strategies will produce.

Peace may be defined as the absence of conflict. Peace is always seen as a gift from God and has a special characteristic. According to Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus said: peacemakers are called the children of God.

Oze Parrot :-)

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