Thousands of Filipino voters turned out for what they called was a "unity walk" and "interfaith prayer rally" aimed at calling for "safe and peaceful elections" in the Philippines this year. Religious leaders, policemen, soldiers, students and poll candidates participated in the event on Jan. 13. In May, Filipinos will be electing members of Congress, governors, mayors and other local leaders in midterm elections that mark the halfway point in President Rodrigo Duterte's six-year term. Father Lucio Rosaroso Jr., vicar-general for the police from the Military Ordinariate, said the challenge is "for everyone to be on guard and always to maintain peace." The priest led a "prayer rally" in Quezon City that was attended by an estimated 6,000. Similar activities were held in other provinces including the signing of "unity covenants" among candidates to shun poll violence. Philippine elections in the past have always been marred by violence. In last May's village chief elections, authorities reported at least 35 people were killed in poll-related violence
. Police also confiscated 1,157 firearms, 7,926 rounds of ammunition, 79 grenades, and 350 explosive devices. Guillermo Eleazar, director of the National Police office in the Philippine capital, said the unity walk and prayer rally "emphasized the importance of teamwork ... to achieve fair and peaceful elections
." A united prayer is one way to show "we are at one in safeguarding the elections against those planning to stain them." The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said it is preparing for a plebiscite in Mindanao later this month to decide on the implementation of a law that will create a new Muslim autonomous region. Volunteers would monitor the poll in Mindanao, said Brother Johnny Cardenas, vice chairman of the organization. The Commission on Elections has given accreditation to the church-based watchdog to monitor the plebiscite in Mindanao starting Jan. 21. Father Teresito Suganob, who was abducted by terrorist gunmen during the 2017 Marawi City siege, underscored the importance of voter education
for the plebiscite to be successful. The priest said the people of Mindanao should be properly informed about why they will be voting for or against the law.
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"If the plebiscite turns out successful, this could mean an end to armed conflict in Mindanao," said Father Suganob who heads an organization that educates voters in the region.