Election-related violence increases as election day nears – Ateneo study

Uniformed personnel from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) conducts random checks on motorists passing through a COMELEC checkpoints along University Ave. in Quezon City. (Noel B. Pabalate, Manila Bulletin)

QUEZON CITY – The number of election-related violence (ERV) incidents significantly builds up at around 100 days before the election and reaches its peak at the election date, an Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) through the Ateneo Policy Center (APC) study finds.

To study ERVs, ASOG-APC developed the Philippine Electoral Violence Dataset (PEV) — the only incident-level dataset with detailed information on ERVs for recent elections. Researchers examined incidences of ERV in the Philippines from three election periods (2013, 2016, and 2019) using online media reports.

The Election-Related Violence in the Philippines: Trends, Targets, and Perpetrators

Working Paper can be accessed publicly through:


“As the Philippines goes into the 2022 national elections to elect new sets of national and local leaders, there is danger that the Philippines may yet again experience a surge of electoral violence given the highly contested nature of these elections. It is for this reason that this study has been conducted to specifically locate spatial trends, or where and when ERVs might be on the uptake and identify risk factors that may correlate to these patterns,” the study states.

“The dataset was constructed from publicly available media reports, as there is no publicly available dataset from government institutions. The Philippine National Police (PNP), the agency tasked with collating and reporting on election related violence, has not disclosed to the general public incident level data on election-related violence in those election years, hence, the need for this independent dataset to measure the gravity of this phenomenon in the country,” it further reads.

As of June 2021, the dataset has recorded 351 ERV incidents from 2012-2019. Majority or 195 of the recorded incidents are lethal or resulted in at least one death.

The dataset also showed that 77% percent or 63 out of the 81 provinces in the country were reported to have at least one ERV incident from 2012-2019.

Among the ERV hotspots identified are Malabon City, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur, Cebu, Eastern Samar, Batangas, Quezon, Masbate, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos Norte, Abra, La Union, and Isabela.

On Targets and Perpetrators

The ASOG-APC study found that the majority of the ERV incidents targeted state actors or incumbent re-electionist public officials, followed by non-state actors or ordinary citizens or known supporters of other candidates. Other ERV targets included armed groups, civil society, foreign nationals, and unknown persons.

The dataset saw a build-up of ERV incidents targeting state actors the most just days before the election. On election day, however, ordinary citizens were seen to be targeted the most.

Then, a significant number of ERV incidents targeting state actors once again occur right after the election date. Majority of these post-election day targets involved candidates waiting on the election results or poll officials.

“This may indicate that perpetrators employ more lethal ERVs against state actors prior or after election day (including incumbent re-electionist public officials, opposing candidates and electoral officials) to eliminate rivals and intimidate supporters while employing non-lethal ERVs against civilians and voters throughout the election season,” the study states.

Meanwhile, the study discovered that most of the perpetrators of ERV incidents in the country are unidentified assailants (such as unidentified gunmen, motorcycle-riding gunmen, assassins, hired gunmen, etc).

The dataset also found that provinces led by members of fat political dynasties, where relatives simultaneously hold multiple local elective positions, are more likely to exhibit higher total incidents of ERCs than less dynastic provinces.

Addressing poll-related violence

The ASOG-APC findings point to an urgent policy response to ensure both short and long-term integrity in the Philippines’ electoral democracy.

The study believes there is a need to implement the long-overdue anti-political dynasty reforms which have been severely plaguing Philippine local politics since the end of the Marcos era. Previous ASOG-APC studies have shown that fat dynasties continue to rise across all local elected positions since 1987. The study warns that this trend may only further perpetuate the ERVs.

Moreover, there is a need for stronger legislative frameworks that specifically respond to matters relating to firearms ownership and against the establishment of private armies. More collaborative and coordinated efforts are needed to address the means, effects and causes of election violence in the Philippines.