Philippine Elections: The Tugaya Gunfight

Many days ago, journalist-activist Raymund Villanueva wrote about a chilling eyewitness report on the elections, Philippine-style. He documented the widespread votebuying and political intimidation in the town of Tugaya, Lanao del Sur and survived to tell the tale of a 2-hour gunfight right before one of the municipality’s polling centers. Dodging bullets and risking life he wrote:

A short while later violence erupted in one of the precincts 20 meters away from where our team was standing. I ran to take videos believing my assistant cameraman Ipe Soco was right behind me. It was pandemonium. I did not know where to point my camera as there was simultaneous fighting everywhere. Guns were then drawn, cocked and trained on the crowd. Several times, a semi-automatic .45 caliber pistol and an M-16 assault rifle were pointed in my direction as men were grappling for the guns. I was a meter-and-a-half away from the muzzles. One of the gunmen even looked at my big camera and then directly at my eyes. At that moment, I lowered my camera and held my palm outwards to indicate to him that I was no longer filming. He is the husband of the woman who verbally-assaulted and threatened me; the mayor’s son; the guy who owns many guns. I reached my quota of cuss words in those few seconds. I thought, “Is this it?”

…I followed the gunman, nicknamed Blackman. I again turned the camera on and started filming. Shortly after many shots were fired. Ipe and I both captured it on two different angles. I was soon pushed back by the wave of people scampering away. It was then I realized my assistant was nowhere near me. My fear level shot even higher as I now worry for my partner as well.

Stories such as this have been a regular staple in every elections, blood in blood out, cheats forcing their way into office. Elections are often imagined as democratic exercises, instead these have become catalysts for intensified, and often violent, elite competition. What is more chilling is the fact that many Filipinos find cheating and violence as an ordinary run-of-the-mill story, as if this is but another chapter in a sad TV opera. Raymund’s story jolts everyone, especially the middle class and the snotty academia’s pipe dream of honest and clean elections. Does the electoral exercise mirror the voice of the people? Are the winning candidates our genuine representatives? Vox populi, vox dei?

If we were to sew individual stories (and even Facebook statuses of Filipinos) together, we somehow get a sense that something is askew somewhere. People selling their votes for a day’s meal is a symptom of a much bigger problem. It points to a nation that has thrown in the towel at a government that has ceased to be relevant in their daily lives. After all, in a lumbering economy like ours, elections is one big economic exercise–because the price of each vote is many times more than the average daily wage.

To read more on Raymund Villanueva’s report, please click here.

KODAO Productions released these two videos on the Tugaya incident posted below:

Foreign observers, Kodao reporter witness gunfight in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur

Lanao del Sur footage 2 from Raymund Villanueva

Al-Jazeera’s report on the Maguindanao Massacre
Philippines ‘witness’ recounts killings – 26 Nov 09


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