Associated Press

Gunshots and Ballot Boxes: Election Violence in the Philippines 2013 Regional Elections

On Monday, October 28, 2013, Pilipinos poured into polling stations throughout southern regions of the country. This election would place over 42,000 village heads and more than 300,000 national councilors into power. Unlike the U.S., Pilipino citizens did not need to be encouraged to participate in their village elections. While local U.S. elections dotted street corners and college campuses with political advocates in an attempt to raise election awareness and voter turnout, local elections in the Philippines had drawn out 75 percent of registered voters from their homes. “Election fever, even on a village level, is always intense in the Philippines,” commented Pilipino voter Carlo de Jesus. Pilipinos, it seems to me, better understand the value of a democracy. If this were the only distinction between Pilipino and American elections, I would be in higher spirits. However there is a second major difference and, sadly, it is not one to celebrate.

Detainee casts election ballot at a local school used as a polling station in Taguig city, south of Manila, Philippines.

On Tuesday, November 5, 2013, the general elections occurring in the United States proceeded quietly, garnering no notable media attention. The winners peacefully ascended to their new positions of state and local power and, save the battered egos of the losing parties, Tuesday’s election claimed no casualties. The Philippines, however, could not say the same for itself. On that Monday, a symphony of grenade blasts and gunshots heralded the opening of the polls as violence erupted throughout several barangays, or Pilipino villages.

In Catubig of northern Samar in central Philippines, twenty people were reported dead while thirty were wounded in the wake of the 2013 village election.

On the island of Jolo, a vehicle carrying voters was gunned down, leaving the driver dead and four passengers wounded as reported by provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra.

And in the Maguindinao province, a convoy of civilians were killed in what is now termed as the Maguindinao Massacre. Guilty of nothing save their support or familial relationship to Mindinao governor elect Esmael Mangudadatu, these fifty-seven dead embody one of the most merciless cases of election-inspired violence.

Voting centers, too, were targeted, as classrooms in a Buldon school were set ablaze and gunmen opened fire on a voting center in Midsayap in North Cotabato.  Even before polling stations were opened, the impending elections tainted southern Pilipino villages in blood red. In the weeks leading up to the election, twenty-two candidates were killed in pre-election violence. According to Associated Press, the cause of most of these deaths were shootouts.

Election Violence:  the Philippines' Unwanted Friend 

To the dismay of the Pilipinos, these examples make up only a small cluster of the 2013 election-related bloodshed. What is worse is that this is not the first year the Philippines has experienced such carnage. In fact, it would be unusual if voting seasons did not greet the Philippines with bullet wounds, overturned vehicles or countless casualties.  In 2009 fifty-eight people died in a shooting allegedly plotted by a rival clan. This execution was the ranked the single worst killing of journalists in the world, leaving thirty-one media workers dead at the hands of armed militia seeking to maintain political control over southern Maguindanao. In 2010, according to the Commission on Elections and the Philippine National Police (Comelec), the Pilipino elections were defined by 180 outbreaks of election-related violence. Of the deaths that resulted, four were candidates but most were civilians, barangay officials and mayors. So familiar is the Philippines with these types of fatalities that the country tightened security in 6,000 villages in preparation for this year's elections. Before Catubig even saw the twenty deaths and thirty wounded mentioned earlier, 147 of Samar's villages had already been placed on a watch-list of areas where election-related incidents were likely to occur.

Elections are emblematic of democracy, representative of the people's choice. Preparation for an election should be a time of excitement as voters impatiently await the chance to contribute their opinion. Pilipinos embody this democratic spirit, hoards of them rushing to vote during each election. It is a travesty that their enthusiasm may cost them their lives.

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Behind Closed Doors: A Hidden Gem on a College Campus - Mental Health

In the Fil-Am community, there is a cultural mistrust against seeking mental health help. Among teens and young adults, who may fear shame from their community and peers for seeking help, this problem is also quite prevalent. Unfortunately, college students are at a high risk of facing high levels of stress and mental health illness. However, students also have the most resources available to them during their undergraduate (and graduate) years. One of these resources, which is considerably underutilized on campuses across the nation, is the school’s counseling center. The stigma that 'seeking help from a counselor means that you’re admitting defeat or weakness' often deters students from seeking help. Students dread being embarrassed and shamed. Some students even fear risking their academic career, and may choose to carry on silently with their struggle. However, choosing to get help and talk to a mental health professional can be a very positive and life-saving experience.

Why are college students depressed?

depressed maleDepression is increasingly more common among college students. For many students who go off to college, it can be an extremely trying transition period. Students have to get accustomed to new surroundings, influences and peers - all without close supervision or parental guidance.

This is a critical time of growth for college students, as they are learning responsibilities that they may not have had experience with before in the past. Students are becoming more independent, having to manage their time, and steering toward their future careers. Often, they don’t know the importance of taking care of their mental health, or don't know the steps to do so in a college setting. It's crucial that college students remember that they are not alone in whatever they are facing.

According to an Associated Press-mtvU poll, about four in ten college students are experiencing depression. Students who need mental health attention should not be afraid to get help. There’s nothing shameful about it, and it doesn’t make that person weak or incapable of dealing with their issues. Rather, making the decision to ask for help shows great strength and self-awareness.

What are the advantages to going to a counseling center during college?

  1. Services are free. While some students do inquire about mental health services at their counseling center, others don’t always know where to get help. Also, beyond college, it becomes more difficult to get help, especially when dealing with mental health coverage and insurance plans. Simply put, it is expensive to receive mental health help after college.
  2. Those who reach out and take advantage of  counseling services experience a considerable decrease in their stress levels and worries.
  3. Students can still turn their life around and steer toward a healthier life, even if they feel like they have done too much damage to their academic (and professional) record and relationships with others. Anything that has fallen by the wayside can still be salvaged and improved.
  4. Students will be able to access more resources, especially if they need more intensive help. This includes getting outside counseling, receiving medical attention, or meeting with other mental health professionals.

What are some signs that someone should seek help?

  • feeling down or hopeless
  • violence and hostility
  • suicidal thoughts
  • self-harming actions
  • changes in eating habits
  • not sleeping enough
  • not attending class
  • not enjoying things that you used to
  • substance abuse 
  • social anxiety
  • academic stress
  • conflict at home

Are there alternatives to the counseling center?

  • Call the national suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Talk to someone you trust: parent, family member, teacher, primary care physician, spiritual leader
  • Seek additional support here.
  • Read more information here.
  • If you want to get involved with mental health on your campus or in the community, contact your local Active Minds chapter or NAMI chapter.


Photo credits: The Guardian and and Sujen Man