Filipinos trooped to polling stations on May 14 to elect the heads and members of village councils and youth leaders in 42,028 villages across the country. More than a million candidates are vying for office in the first village elections in five years and the first youth council poll in eight. Elections in Marawi remain on hold following five-months of clashes between terrorists and government troops last year. Authorities banned the drinking of alcohol, the carrying of firearms, and campaigning on election day. The Philippine National Police has identified 7,915 villages potential "election hot spots" and deployed thousands of policemen to help ensure peaceful and orderly elections. As of May 13, the Philippine National Police had recorded 27 deaths and 20 election-related incidents. At least six people were reported wounded in election-related violence
. According to the police, election-related violence and deaths were lower this year compared to the 57 recorded during the last village polls in 2013. Voters are expected to elect a village chief, seven council members, a youth council chairman and seven members. The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting
, a church-based poll watchdog, urged registered voters to go out and vote. "For grassroots democracy to be robust, let us choose out leaders wisely," said council chairman Rene Sarmiento, adding that voters should consider candidates who have leadership qualities and are "pro-God." Sarmiento, a former elections commissioner, said winning candidates will have a "big say" in proposals to shift from a centralized form of government to a federal system. "Whatever form it is, these village officials will still be there and will give life, vigor, dynamism to grassroots democracy," he said. "These officials will be at the vanguard of a massive educational campaign to inform our electorate about the pluses and minuses of a change in governmental system," said Sarmiento.
A disabled person casts his vote in the Philippine province of Rizal during village and youth council elections on May 14. (Photo by Jhun Dantes) Vote as Catholics Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Dagupan
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reminded people to vote not only as Filipinos, but as Catholics. "Our citizenship and our faith must go together in our decision making for whom to vote as leaders," said the prelate in a pastoral letter issued on May 13. Archbishop Villegas asked people not to succumb to bribes. "If they offer you money, food or goodies in exchange for votes, get angry and feel insulted," he said. "Vote buying is an attack on your dignity. When they offer you money, they are putting a price tag on you," he added. He also appealed to candidates not to allow themselves to be used as tools of those in national government. "We must fight crimes against the poor like the killing of the poor in the name of the drug war and the unabated rise in basic food commodities," said Archbishop Villegas, a vocal critic of the government's war against drugs that has killed thousands of suspected drug users and dealers. 'No to vote-buying'
In Cagayan de Oro in the southern Philippines, a local artist staged a performance to appeal to voters not to sell their votes. With a blackened cooking pot and a ballot box as his main props, Nicolas Aca, 48, positioned himself outside the St. Augustine cathedral on May 13. Written in red chalk on the pot was "my vote is not for sale," a message that Aca has tried to convey to city voters for the past four elections. He called his performance "Boto, Goto" essentially summing up many Filipinos' attitude during elections. The ballot box symbolizes "boto [vote]" while the cooking pot represents "goto [beef congee]." "You can buy 'goto' from the few pesos that you receive from politicians. Sure, it will fill your stomach for a day. You're contented, but what's next? Is your vote just good enough to buy 'goto'?" he said. Through his art, Aca aims to "stir the consciences" of people in the hope that they will think twice before accepting money from candidates. Voters line up at a school that serves as a polling station for village and youth council elections in the Philippines on May 14. (Photo by Jire Carreon) Prayers for clean, peaceful elections
In Manila Archdiocese, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle encouraged priests, to recite the prayer that was earlier released by bishops for the elections. "Give us the wisdom to elect women and men who will work for truth, justice, and the upliftment of human dignity," read the prayer, which was distributed to all dioceses around the country. "Grant us the gift of discernment — so that we may wisely exercise the gift of suffrage as an expression of our desire for peace and love for neighbor," added the prayer. President Rodrigo Duterte declared May 14 a holiday "to enable the people to fully exercise their right to suffrage." Jigger Jerusalem contributed to this report.