Barangay polls open amid violence and delays

Posted at 10/25/2010 12:22 PM | Updated as of 10/25/2010 12:58 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A village councillor was shot dead in the southern Philippines as elections to choose thousands of district officials opened amid violence and widespread delays Monday, authorities said.

Village councilman Valentin Campos died in hospital after he was shot by a gunman outside the southern city of Butuan hours before polling was to start, police said.

Campos was the latest casualty since the campaign period began last month for the hotly sought-after posts of district chairmen and council members in the country's 42,000 villages, police said.

As well as giving officials power over small communities, the posts can be a stepping stone to higher office and are often contested by relatives or children of more senior officials as a training run for an eventual succession.

National police chief Director General Raul Bacalzo in Manila said that 29 people have so far been killed and at least 12 others wounded in heated rivalry among candidates.

"With the help of God and our countrymen, our figure for violent incidents this year should no longer go up today," Bacalzo said.

Police have confiscated some 523 firearms and arrested more than 600 people violating a gun ban imposed during the election period, he said.

In central Masbate province the military said troops at a roadblock Monday seized at least 10 firearms from a "private army" allegedly controlled by a local politician.

Voting had been delayed in Catanduanes province because of the late arrival of ballot boxes, potentially causing security problems, military officials said.

President Benigno Aquino appealed to the public to go out and vote despite the violence and delays, saying village officials were important to his anti-corruption agenda.

The Philippines has been a democracy for 20 years but elections are often marred by violence, with many politicians known to employ private armies to harass and intimidate voters and rivals.

At least 28 people were killed in violence related to the presidential and congressional elections held in May.

In the country's worst case of poll-related violence in years, 57 people were allegedly murdered by a powerful political clan in the southern Philippines last November.