MORE POLITICIANS have been resorting to vote-buying rather than inflicting harm on their opponents, one of the factors for the significant decline in election-related violence this year compared to previous polls, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Election-related violence for this year’s midterm polls, at 43 as of May 12, is less than half of the 106 recorded in 2016 and 94 in 2013, according to PNP data. “It’s harder now to commit a crime…there is a trail if you commit violence, so they resort to vote-buying. Instead of harassing (their opponents), the focus has been shifted on the voters,” PNP Spokesperson Col. Bernard M. Banac, speaking in English and Filipino, said in an interview with BusinessWorld on May 10. Vote-buying has been a perennial problem in Philippine elections, but it came to the fore last week with social media abuzz with the issue and a disqualification case filed against one prominent politician from Cavite.

The PNP has also started to actively campaign against the illegal practice, posting messages on social media encouraging the public to file reports.

As of Sunday, police data showed that 159 violators were reported in 20 incidents of alleged vote buying. Of the total, 149 were arrested by the police while 10 others remain at-large.

Aside from vote-buying, Mr. Banac said tight security and public awareness also contributed to the decline in election-related violence. “We can attribute it to some factors. Number one, early preparation of the police and the military…strict enforcement of gun ban and confiscation of loose firearms and including the arrest of possible private armed groups. Second, is public awareness. It’s now very easy to determine election-related violence because of social media. Like organize a shooting, killing, or bombing, for sure there will be witnesses,” the police spokesperson said.

He also noted that there are more unopposed candidates in local government positions in this election.

“For sure, if the candidate is unopposed, there would be no problem,” he said.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) data show 547 candidates have no political opponents. Of this, 46 are running for a seat in the House of Representatives, nine are candidates for governor, 18 for vice governor, 211 for city or municipal mayor, and 263 for city or municipal vice mayor.

Mr. Banac also said the PNP is closely monitoring areas, especially those under the control of Comelec and placed under the Red Category or “areas of grave concern.” These are: Cotabato City; Daraga, Albay; and Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental.

“But of course, the perennial hotspots like Abra, Masbate, Lanao del Sur, we are really closely monitoring that. And of course the whole of Mindanao, which is placed under Red category,” he said.

In Cotabato City and Lanao del Sur, for example, International Alert’s monitoring show 43 reported incidents in these two areas from March 28, the start of the campaign period for local candidates, to May 10, a day before the end of campaigning.

“They depicted a campaign period characterized by intense political rivalries that saw candidates and their supporters engage in mudslinging, vote-buying, intimidation and threats, harassment, physical fights, and violence with the use of firearms,” International Alert said in a May 12 report.

Authorities have so far identified 945 towns and cities as election “hot spots,” with four areas placed under Comelec Control — Moises Padilla, Cotabato City, Daraga town in Albay province, and Rosario, Agusan del Sur.

The PNP deployed 149,830 personnel nationwide, with at least two policemen designated in the vicinity of each of the 36,000 polling centers.

When asked of the possible worst case scenario on May 13, Mr. Banac said: “Well the worst case that we hope that will not happen is acts of terrorism…to sow fear or terror, that is what we really need to monitor.” — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras