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Local campaigns start: Duterte, ex-mayor, sets the tone for 2019 polls

MANILA, Philippines – The campaign period for local positions starts Friday, March 29, with President Rodrigo Duterte making clear his anti-drug and anti-communist agenda will be shaping some of the races.  

Around 43,000 candidates are vying for nearly 18,000 local positions across the country: provincial governor, vice governor, and board members; city and municipal mayor, vice mayor, and councilors; and representatives to the House, including those in the 5 districts created under Duterte’s presidency. (READ: 2019 local elections, in numbers) 

In its editorial last Monday, March 25, Rappler pointed out:  

In the name of the war on drugs, President Rodrigo Duterte read on live television a narco-list of politicians allegedly linked to the illegal drugs trade.

In the name of counter-insurgency, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has issued a stern warning against candidates who pay revolutionary taxes to communist guerrillas.

This distinguishes 2019 from past local elections, Rappler news editor Miriam Grace Go said in an episode of Newsbreak Chats on Thursday, March 28.

“You have a former mayor who is now president, and he is bringing to a national scale the local campaign tactics of black propaganda and demonizing one’s enemies,” Go said. 

Duterte was mayor of Davao, the country’s largest city in terms of land area, for decades before he was elected president. 

She pointed out that it used to be local candidates would only expect negative campaigning by their rivals, but now black propaganda can even come from the President. Before, the allegations made by competing candidates were of immorality and graft; now, it’s about drug links – a charge that implies the candidates have destroyed lives, families, and communities. 

“And given the pattern that we’ve seen – of local officials getting killed weeks or months after being cited in the drug list or cursed by the President in his speech – [we can say] if the President doesn’t like you, it’s like the death sentence to your candidacy,” Go said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

The national campaign period kicked off on February 12, with the Philippine National Police (PNP) declaring 701 areas as election hot spots, which account for 42.9% of all cities and municipalities in the country. These include Manila and 4 other cities in the National Capital Region. 

The PNP reported having arrested more than 2,000 persons since the election gun ban took effect on January 13 and until February 27. The police also reported having confiscated, recovered, or surrendered to them 1,692 firearms and 13,699 deadly weapons.

As early as September 2018, President Duterte warned local politicians who would dare violate the 2019 election gun ban. 

“I will not allow anybody strapping around with an armalite. That’s really prohibited. And if you pass a checkpoint and you do not stop and there’s a warning shot, if you think you’re a goddamn big-time mayor, if you die, I will say I was the one who ordered it,” he said in a post-typhoon briefing in La Trinidad, Benguet.

CHECKPOINTS. Policemen implement Comelecu2019s gun ban check in Binondo, Manila, as the National Capital Region Police Office also deploys 14,000 cops and set up more checkpoints in Metro Manila. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

CHECKPOINTS. Policemen implement Comelecu2019s gun ban check in Binondo, Manila, as the National Capital Region Police Office also deploys 14,000 cops and set up more checkpoints in Metro Manila.

Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

The deaths of 3 or 4 mayors should show local officials that he is serious about this warning, the President said then. 

“As a matter of fact I said it in Baguio: shoot…. You think I cannot enforce it? May apat, tatlong mayor namatay diyan, sunod lahat ’yan. (If 4 or 3 mayors get killed, everyone will follow),” said Duterte.

Unahin mo ‘yung kapartido ko. Shoot him first para walang masabi (Target my party mate first. Shoot him first, so one will criticize). But be sure to shoot the second one, the opponent also,” he said. 

In March 2019, when Duterte read out the partial list of 46 local officials he claimed were involved in the drug trade, 8 of those named were his party mates in the PDP-Laban. 

An opposition senatorial candidate, Gary Alejano, said Duterte is trying to control the local elections with his narco list striptease: “The public-shaming that the government is resorting to is aimed to intimidate and control the local politicians in the coming elections.” 

Rappler’s editorial said: “We have not seen anything like this since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986: a strongman inserting himself in local elections by carpet-bombing his enemies. He intends to take votes away from them through means and resources available only to a president.” 

There are 22 provinces where the campaign atmosphere is expected to be intense, given the one-on-one gubernatorial races. Of these 17 are being contested by Duterte’s PDP-Laban party mates. – Rappler.com