More than 300,000 police and soldiers are deployed to secure polling stations in more than 42,000 villages.

At least three people were killed in the restive southern Philippines as millions voted for village leaders after months of deadly electoral violence.

Security forces were on high alert across the country on Monday as the long-delayed nationwide vote for more than 336,000 council positions began.

While villages form the lowest government unit, council positions are hotly contested as they are used by political parties to build grassroots networks and build a support base for local and parliamentary elections.

More than 300,000 police and soldiers are deployed to secure polling stations in more than 42,000 villages.

Soldiers stand guard as voters wait in line at a polling station during the nationwide village and youth elections in Marawi, on the island of Mindanao [Merlyn Manos/AFP]

Elections are traditionally a troubled time in the Philippines, where there are lax gun laws and a violent political culture.

Two people were killed and five others injured outside a polling station in Maguindanao del Norte province on the southern island of Mindanao on Monday, police said.

The shooting occurred during a confrontation between supporters of rival candidates for village captain, said Lt. Col. Esmail Madin, police chief of Datu Odin Sinsuat township.

In a separate incident, a woman was killed when a shootout erupted after a van carrying a village captain and her supporters was stopped on a street by people supporting their rival in Lanao del Norte province, the army said.

In the capital Manila, voters stood in long lines outside schools that served as polling stations to cast their votes.

“This is important for people … we need to be able to consult someone about our problems,” said Rosemarie Garcia in the Tondo neighborhood.

“We need someone who is easily accessible to their constituents.”

Previous electoral violence

In 2009, before it was split into two provinces, Maguindanao was the scene of the country’s deadliest single incident of political violence on record.

Fifty-eight people were massacred when gunmen allegedly working for a local ruler attacked a group of people to stop a rival from submitting his nomination.

There were 30 confirmed incidents of election-related violence in the run-up to Monday’s vote, compared with 35 in 2018, the Philippine National Police said on Sunday, without providing an updated breakdown of the number of dead and injured.

About a third of the incidents occurred in Mindanao’s Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Previous police data showed eight people were killed and seven injured in election-related violence between August 28 and October 25.

A mother and her child go through the voting materials for the nationwide village and youth elections in Manila at a polling station [Ted Aljibe/AFP]

More than 67 million people are registered to vote in the elections, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. described on Monday as “very important” for senior politicians.

“What is happening here in the barangay? [village] … will affect the results of the midterm elections and then the national elections,” Marcos said after casting his vote in his family’s stronghold, Batac City in the northern province of Ilocos Norte.

“When other barangays tell you, ‘I will cast 350 votes for you in my barangay,’ you can be sure that you will get 350. That’s why the result is very important.”

Voters elect a village captain and seven city councilors who are responsible for implementing national policies, resolving neighborhood disputes, and providing basic public services.

Village councils also allow politicians to “distribute funds and other favors to secure votes,” said Maria Ela Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

Village elections are supposed to take place every three years, but the last election took place in 2018.

They were postponed by then-President Rodrigo Duterte and then his successor Marcos on the grounds that the government could not afford them.

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