[A Baguio City voter examines a sample ballot ahead of tomorrow’s midterm elections where over 52 million Filipinos are registered to vote. ANDY ZAPATA JR.]

MANILA, MAY 13, 2013
(PHILSTAR) By Aurea Calica - It is the duty of every Filipino voter to participate in tomorrow’s election and make sure his or her vote is protected and counted, Malacañang said yesterday.

“This is the time to let your government know how you feel about them,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over dzRB radio yesterday even as she voiced the President’s wish that voters choose all his candidates.

“As the President says, if you are happy with what you have seen in the past close to three years, if you want it to continue, then vote for Team PNoy,” Valte said, referring to the Liberal Party (LP)-led administration coalition. “But again, whatever it is, please go out and vote, and be mindful of the things that you can and cannot do on election day.”

Valte said that while the government is committed to keep the elections peaceful, credible and orderly, the people should do their part by being vigilant and reporting cases of irregularities to authorities.

She said the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are ready to maintain peace and order as well as deal with troublemakers.

Valte also called on the people to shun cheaters and vote buyers and report them to authorities so that the true will of the people would prevail.

She said incidences of irregularities and violence in the past weeks – while few – should convince the people of the need for greater vigilance.

She assured the public that operations against those who would try to disrupt the elections, including the communist rebels, would continue.

She cited the importance of the citizens’ cooperation in thwarting criminal activities during the election period.

“We will also depend largely on our fellowmen who are reporting these incidents. If you happen to hear or witness anything, report it immediately to the police and they will act promptly,” Valte said.

“So we are thankful to our fellowmen because they are responding to our call to cooperate with our security forces,” she said.

She also urged the public to take seriously the liquor ban, which took effect at midnight last night, as well as report cases of last minute campaigning and illegal use of frequency jammers. Jammers can impair the function of precinct count optical scan machines to transmit accurate election results.

Valte said suspicious-looking gadgets or equipment near polling places should be reported to authorities, particularly the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

She said the poll body would be fair in enforcing election laws even if violators were administration candidates.

“The Comelec is independent. They can freely do what they need to do under their mandate. If you have information, give it to them and there is no reason to stop them from acting (on the complaints),” Valte said.

Valte said evidence would be important so that investigation and filing of charges can proceed smoothly.

She also expressed discomfort at Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes’ advice to voters that they accept money from candidates but not in exchange for their votes.

She said such an advice is practical but would not be helpful in the long-term. “Our appeal is for you to really vote for whoever you think can really help not only that day but really for your children and also for the benefit of your family,” Valte said.

Familiar problems

In tomorrow’s elections – seen as crucial to President Aquino’s effort to transform society – the country may have to deal with the same problems: violence, corruption, and nepotism.

More than 18,000 positions will be contested in the midterm elections – from the town level up to Congress – and Aquino is banking on landslide wins for his allies to cement his reform agenda.

“The President needs to be able to have a strong coalition in both houses of Congress to be able to push through critical measures,” Budget Secretary and ruling LP stalwart Florencio Abad said.

Since taking office in 2010 following a landslide election win, Aquino has maintained record high popularity ratings while overseeing strong economic growth and efforts to tackle corruption that have won international acclaim.

Mandated by law to only serve one term of six years, Aquino has said he is determined to leave a permanent legacy that will shake off the “sick man of Asia” tag on the Philippines.

One key plank is ending a decades-long Muslim rebellion in Mindanao that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives and stifled economic growth.

Aquino is close to signing a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main rebel group, but he will then need Congress to endorse the pact.

All the seats in the House of Representatives and half in the Senate are being contested in the midterm elections.

The Philippines has a plethora of parties, and politicians frequently shift allegiances, so controlling Congress is extremely difficult.

But Aquino secured support for key reform initiatives in his first three years in office, and he is confident that big victories in both chambers tomorrow will ensure an even more productive second half of his term.

Abad said other initiatives that Aquino was eyeing over the next three years included expanding the tax base to pay for a better social safety net, and reforming the mining sector so that big firms pay higher taxes.

However, deep-rooted problems that have plagued the Philippines for decades are expected to again impact tomorrow’s election, and continue to haunt the political landscape long after Aquino has left office.

The Philippines is infamous for a brutal brand of democracy where politicians – particularly at the local and provincial levels – are willing to bribe, intimidate or kill to ensure they win.

More than 50 people have been killed in election-related violence, including candidates and their aides. The military and police will be on high alert tomorrow in a bid to stamp out any last-minute attacks.

Efforts by the Comelec to curb violence and vote buying turned into farce in the final days of campaigning, when the Supreme Court blocked the commission from enforcing controversial bans on selling alcohol and carrying large amounts of money.

Activists have warned that political dynasties which dominate politics in the Philippines, including the Aquino clan, are set to strengthen their chokehold on the country.

The Philippines is ruled by remarkably few families – with roughly 70 percent of the members of the current Congress belonging to a dynasty – and surveys are showing the elite are set to become even more dominant.

A host of colorful names are contesting the elections, including boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, who is seeking a second term as Sarangani congressman.

Pacquiao, now one of the country’s richest men, is looking to create his own dynasty.

His wife Jinkee is running to become vice governor of Sarangani despite having no political experience, while one of his brothers is also running for Congress.

Imelda Marcos, widow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is almost certain to win a second term at the age of 83 representing Ilocos Norte where her family enjoys dynastic rule. Her daughter Imee is running unopposed for governor.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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