‘Guns, goons and gold’

That is the phrase that was used to describe Philippine elections in the past. The Commission on Human Rights reported 49 instances of “politically motivated” killings, assaults and harassments in the country from June 2015 to March 2016. Except for the “gold” part, of course, election violence has decreased in the past two decades. The CHR noted four deaths related to the run-up of the 2016 polls.

“We have the dubious record of having the worst election-related violence in the history of the world. That’s on November 23, 2009 [the Maguindanao massacre]. So our effort is to actually bring that to zero,” CHR Chairman Jose Gascon said.

However, the Philippines is making progress. From Reuters.com: “At least 82 candidates and office holders have been killed since the electoral season kicked off in September, making this the bloodiest presidential race in recent history, according to a tally by Etellekt, a security consultancy based in Mexico City.”

The “warlords” that can control the politics of local governments translate into vast financial power. When you can exercise strong if not absolute control over the police and, to a lesser extent, the local courts, anything is possible. Public-works projects become the piggy bank of the local politicians. Businesses can only operate in the area with the protection of the “mayor.” Voters are either too frightened or too financially dependent to freely cast their vote. A significant portion of the past “guns, goons and gold” was to protect local gambling that supported the political power.

In the current case of Mexico, it is much more disastrous and gives a lesson for the Philippines.

From Reuters: “Security experts suspect drug gangs are driving much of the bloodshed. With a record of about 3,400 mostly local offices up for grabs in July, Mexico’s warring cartels appear to be jostling for influence in city halls nationwide, according to Vicente Sanchez, a professor of public administration at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana.”

“Sanchez said crime bosses are looking to install friendly lawmakers, eliminate those of rivals and scare off would-be reformers who might be bad for business. Local governments are a lucrative source of contracts and kickbacks, while their police forces can be pressed into service of the cartels.”

It is an open secret that the illegal-drug business in Mexico was not taken seriously many years ago. The drugs were shipped to the United States, and the money came back to Mexico. Politicians enjoyed the funding for their campaigns, and there was obvious cooperation between both local and national officials with the drug cartels.

The national government’s “war on drugs” was not successful in stopping the business, but it did fuel a greater problem. The cartels became more violent to protect their interests, and “the crackdown splintered established crime syndicates into dozens of competing gangs. Newcomers ratcheted up the savagery to intimidate rivals, as well as police and public servants who might stand in their way.”

The election violence is growing, and both national and local governments are nearly helpless because the culture of payoffs from the cartels is so pervasive. Magda Rubio is a candidate for mayor in a small city in northern Mexico on a key route for heroin trafficking. She has been targeted by the cartel and is under 24-hour guard. But she says, “Cartels have a knack for infiltrating security details like a coyote looking after the chicken.”

The people are both victims and accomplishes in this disaster. We must stay vigilant and not accept any excuses from national or local authorities to protect Philippine democracy from any and all threats.

 

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Turning Points 2018