Philippines elections due amid growing concerns over violence and terrorism

Philippines elections due amid growing concerns over violence and terrorism

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The Philippines will hold its 16th presidential elections on Monday, with final campaign rallies being held across the capital Manila ahead of the vote. The current presidential frontrunner is controversial Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte. However, outgoing President Benigno Aquino is looking to convince other candidates to join together to defeat Duterte.

On Saturday, around 300,000 citizens gathered at the sprawling Luneta Park in the heart of the capital Manila, to hear the final campaign rally of Rodrigo Duterte.

“We need change. He’s not like the other candidates, with their empty promises. He is tough.” said one voter, according to a report in The Straits Times.

The 71-year-old, a tough-talking mayor nicknamed “The Punisher” for his approach to cracking down on crime, has promised to eliminate crime and corruption nationwide within six months. His profanity-laden speeches and controversial comments have also seen him compared to US Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. The latest opinion polls show he leads his nearest rivals, Senator Grace Poe and former interior minister Manuel “Mar” Roxas by 11 percentage points.

Duterte has been sending mixed signals over what his policy on the South China Sea issue would be. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he has expressed a willingness to enter bilateral talks with Beijing over territorial issues, and is open to the possibility of joint exploration of the region with China. However, he has also sparked controversy by claiming he would personally ride a jet ski to one of the disputed islands to plant the flag of the Philippines there.

“I will solve drugs, criminality and corruption in three to six months,” Duterte said in a recent interview with Al Jazeera. “I am the only remaining card left for the Filipinos to deal with the situation.”

Despite his lead in the polls, candidates including Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay and Miriam Defensor-Santiago have all refused to step aside. The Philippines’ electoral system has only one round of voting – whichever candidate obtains the most votes will win the presidency.

POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND TERRORISM CONCERNS GROW

The presidential campaign has been overshadowed by violence. On Saturday, police reported that mayoral candidate Armando Ceballos was murdered in the southern Philippines town of Lantapan by a gunman, bringing the number of people killed during the campaign to 15. According to a statement by the national police, there had been 14 other deaths in 26 “election-related incidents” of violence between January 10 and May 5.

The Philippines has a long history of political violence, with dozens of people killed during each election campaign. Three years ago, more than 70 people were killed in violence related to the 2013 mid-term elections.

The threat of terrorism is also an increasing concern for candidates and voters. The Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group has grown in prominence and proven to be a force to be reckoned with – going on a kidnapping spree over the past year, for the group has released videos of hostages pleading for their lives twice over the past two weeks.

On May 3 footage emerged from the group showing the beheading of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel, killed after their ransom demands were not met. The brutal threat of violence and terrorism has alarmed not only the government but the international community as well.

Outgoing President Benigno Aquino, who is due to step down in June, has vowed to debilitate Abu Sayyaf.

“Based on my understanding of the attitude of the Abu Sayyaf group, they are threatened with strong leadership. But I think institutions must address this threat and not the individual personality,” security analyst Rommel Banlaoi said.

Since the Abu Sayyaf group was established more than 20 years ago, every sitting president has vowed to crush the militant group. The terrorist organization has however proven to be resilient – a growing challenge that the next president will have to be well prepared for.

CCTV

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