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Son of Corazon Aquino leading in Philippine presidential election

Sen. Benigno Aquino III appears to be winning after a day of deadly violence, sweltering heat and malfunctioning voting machines. Even Aquino had to wait five hours to cast his ballot.

May 11, 2010|By John M. Glionna and Sol Vanzi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Seoul and Manila — Filipinos on Monday appeared set to elect as president the son of late democracy icon Corazon Aquino in an attempt to turn a corner on long years of alleged graft and election fraud.

Sen. Benigno Aquino III held a commanding lead with votes from just under 80% of precincts tallied nationwide. He led a nine-candidate presidential race with 40% of the vote, followed by his closest rival, former President Joseph Estrada, who had 25%.

Officials say it could take several days to proclaim an outright winner.

The Philippine election has been marred by widespread violence and flaws with ballot-counting machines that many blamed on the corrupt politics.

Officials confirmed election-related violence at more than 80 polling places nationwide, including bombings, shootouts, abductions and the burning of voting machines. At least six people were killed and eight were wounded, they said.

"We certainly don't want it, and as a Filipino I know it's a terrible thing, but unless something is done to change the system and [make] these people afraid of the law, it's going to happen again and again," said Rod Severino, head of the ASEAN Studies Center at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Aquino's father was assassinated in 1983 upon his return from the United States to oppose the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. His mother led the "people power" movement that forced Marcos from power in 1986 and led the nation to greater individual freedoms.

But turmoil and charges of high-level corruption have continued. Corazon Aquino survived half a dozen coup attempts. Estrada, who was elected president in 1998, was later jailed on corruption charges. The outgoing president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, also has been shadowed by allegations of corruption in her nearly 10 years in power.

The 50-year-old Aquino has promised to immediately begin prosecuting corrupt officials to restore government credibility.

At many polling places, voters waited more than five hours in humid 100-degree heat to cast their ballots, with many eventually giving up in despair. Election officials put turnout at 75% of the 50 million eligible voters.

Authorities extended voting for one hour, until 7 p.m., after reports that optical scanning machines used for the first time had broken down in more than 300 of the nation's 76,000 precincts. Many people had requested that polls remain open three hours after that.

Aquino was one of many who had trouble casting his ballot when a machine malfunctioned in his hometown of Tarlac, north of Manila. Aquino showed up at 10 a.m. but did not cast his vote until five hours later.

"This should not have happened," he said. "I hope this is an isolated case."

It was not.

Volunteers used broom handles, the tip of an umbrella and even ballpoint pens to dislodge ballots jamming voting machines.

"I interviewed people who had waited for four hours to vote and were still nowhere near the front of the line. The electronic voting systems seem to be creating as many problems as they are solving," said Lincoln Ellis, a volunteer for a group called the People's International Observation Mission.

Some towns were not able to hold elections because of the balloting machine problems and outbreaks of violence. Special elections were to be held in many of those areas, means voting results will be delayed.

Analysts said the violence was typical of Philippine elections.

In addition to Monday's deaths, campaign-related violence has killed more than 30 people in the last three months. The last election in 2007 saw more than 125 people killed.

"It's lawlessness that's getting people killed," Severino said.

In a nation where the rich and famous often run for political office, the ballot was filled with well-known names — including Manny Pacquiao, 31, a seven-time world boxing champion who was seeking a seat in the lower house. Imelda Marcos, 80, the flamboyant former first lady, won a lower house seat by a landslide.

john.glionna@latimes.com

Times staff writer Glionna reported from Seoul and special correspondent Vanzi from Manila. Special correspondent Al Jacinto in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, contributed to this report.

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