Benjie Oliveros | Local Polls Reflect the True State of Philippine Elections


MANILA — The campaign for local posts has just begun. And the fanfare surrounding the presidential and senatorial campaigns are nothing compared to that of local campaigns. Even before the local campaign period had officially begun on March 26, every secondary and side street is already full of campaign posters, banners, and banderitas (small banners tied across streets) not only of candidates for national posts but also that of local candidates, minus the position they are running for. With the start of the local campaign period, walls and posts in secondary and side streets would surely thicken with all these campaign paraphernalia, with that of one candidate pasted over another’s over and over again. But beneath the clutter lies the violent nature of local elections.

Local elections are historically fought out with the use of guns, goons, and gold. Thus, the discovery not only of powerful weapons but election paraphernalia as well during raids at the residences of the Ampatuan clan, during the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre, is not unexpected. In fact, the Maguindanao massacre itself is not surprising nor is it an isolated event. It just raised the ante in terms of the level of violence that is to be expected in the coming elections. Killings of local candidates and their ward leaders have already begun all over the country. And this is expected to escalate with the start of the official local campaign period.

After the Maguindanao massacre, Malacañang made a show of moving to dismantle private armies by creating a commission headed by retired Justice Monina Arevalo-Zeñarosa. But even the commission and the Philippine National Police admit that, a little over a month before the May 2010 elections, they have hardly made a dent in dismantling private armies.


Because the so-called private armies are not so private after all. First, every powerful political cum landlord clan has one. It is regularly used to suppress attempts by landless peasants to claim the land they till. These even include members of the local police, as the Maguindanao massacre has shown.

And these “private armies” are not only condoned but even supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The Arroyo government and the AFP admitted that the so-called private army of the Ampatuan clan that carried out the massacre of 57 journalists, relatives of the rival Mangungudatu clan, and other civilians are units of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO). The government also admitted that the high-powered weapons discovered in the cache of the Ampatuan clan have markings of the AFP.

Training and arming CVOs, which are actually the private armies of powerful landlord/political clans, are part of the counterinsurgency strategy of the Arroyo government. These are used to augment the AFP in counterinsurgency operations and are supposed to “hold and secure” communities after major military operations. They are, in turn, fed and financed by landlord/political clans.

It is also used to harass critics and opponents of the national government and the political/landlord clan in power, as, again, what was shown by the Maguindanao massacre. It is perhaps the privilege of having his own army armed, trained, and officially recognized by the government, which is essential to keeping power in the locality, that motivates the Mangungudatu clan to remain within the ruling party.

Another motivation for the party in power in supporting private armies of dominant political/landlord clans in the localities is its own need to keep itself in power. National elections do not determine the results of local elections. It is the other way around. Local elections determine the results of national elections. What motivates local politicians to support a candidate for president is not party loyalty, but rather, who could enhance their chances of victory.

Why are local elections so hotly contested? Victory in local elections provides the political/landlord clan the opportunity to expand its landholdings by taking control over the local government unit, which determines the classification of lands and is the repository of land titles. It enables the clan to corner local government contracts. And it is in the locality where real political power resides because there is actual control over a segment of the population. This control of a segment of the population is what the Arroyo government is counting on to propel Gilbert Teodoro to power.

As more candidates contest local positions, the more violent local elections become. While personality politics shows the triviality of national elections, warlord politics reveals the violent character of local elections. And no amount of vague calls and covenants for peaceful and fair elections would put a stop to these. Only an organized citizenry wielding its political power could change the nature of Philippine politics and elections. (

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