MANILA -- Campaigning for January's local elections began in earnest this month, with candidates' sound trucks blaring slogans and rock music through the streets and bumper stickers on cars -- and at least 10 candidates and campaign workers killed in election-related violence.
More than 150,000 candidates have filed petitions to compete for 75 provincial governorships, 1,500 mayoral slots and 100,000 council seats and other local offices in the Jan. 18 balloting. It will be the first local election since President Corazon Aquino ousted former president Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986.
The elections are seen here as Aquino's last chance to establish a grass roots political base in the provinces and broaden the popular support of the predominantly middle-class, Manila-based "people power" revolution that ousted Marcos.
Political analysts have warned that election-related violence is expected to increase in the next three weeks. More than 50 people were killed before May's congressional elections.
"The forthcoming elections will be violent," said Teodoro Benigno, the presidential spokesman. "In local elections, you discuss issues that stir passion, involve matters that heat the blood. Even in 1980 during martial law, Marcos had complete control of the country, but still there was much violence."
The elections are also seen as the final chance for the provincial elites and local warlords to reestablish traditional dominance. The warlords are being challenged by younger political reformers, encouraged by Aquino, who are trying to move the country away from elections that are decided by what is popularly described as "guns, goons and gold."
"The elites -- or the provincial oligarchies with their vested interests -- are fighting to hold political power, and the conflict is being bitterly fought," wrote Manila Chronicle columnist Amando Doronila, one of the country's most respected political commentators.
"Possibly the most important reason for the climate of violence and volatility of the local elections -- apart from the fact that the contest is intensely personalistic -- is that all over the country today there is an underlying clash for power between the elites defending their traditional dominance and the new middle class."
Aquino has abandoned her earlier neutral stance and says she will campaign for some progovernment candidates.
Aquino remains the singular most popular national figure in the Philippines, and her popularity allowed her slate of candidates to win 22 of 24 Senate seats and a solid majority of House seats in May's elections.
But in districts controlled by established warlords, Aquino was no match for the traditional machine. In Danao on Cebu island, for example, Aquino's candidate Nenita Daluz lost to the son of powerful warlord Ramon Durano despite a last-minute personal appeal by Aquino.
The warlord's grip is considered even stronger on the local level.
In addition, the "Cory factor" may be minimized because her ruling coalition has splintered. Vice President Salvador Laurel has quit the Cabinet and his UNIDO coalition plans to field its own slate of candidates in a tactical alliance with the antigovernment Nacionalista Party of Aquino's archrival, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. However, attempts between loyalists of Laurel and Enrile to form a single, united Nacionalista Party have faltered over the question of whose faction should lead it.
The radical left also will be making an effort to gain a legal political toehold in local government by fielding its candidates under the banner of the People's Party and by forming tactical alliances with other "progressive" candidates.
The far right will be attempting to institutionalize the proliferation of anticommunist vigilante "death squads," with some top vigilante leaders now reportedly running for local government offices.
Another feature of the local elections is how they underscore the continued political grip of elite family dynasties here, despite a section in the new 1987 constitution that prohibits political dynasties "as may be defined by law." Efforts in Congress to define political dynasties have bogged down because numerous legislators have relatives running in the local elections.
Aquino has endorsed several of her relatives running for office despite her earlier statement that she did not want her family members involved in politics. She endorsed her sister-in-law, Mila Aquino-Albert, for mayor of Quezon City, prompting a rift with Quezon City's acting mayor Brigido (Jun) Simon. Despite pressure from the presidential palace to run as Aquino-Albert's vice-mayor, Simon says he is running to keep the job permanently.
The official administration candidate for governor of Rizal is Aquino's cousin, Vicente Sumulong, a nephew of House majority leader Francisco Sumulong, another Aquino relative.