More than 60,000 security forces in the Philippines were on Sunday ready to guard ballots and polling stations ahead of the presidential election after police reported four people were killed in an outbreak of violence.

Elections are a traditionally volatile time in a country with easy gun laws and a tough political culture, but national police said the season has been relatively peaceful.

In one of the worst incidents, four people were killed Saturday in a shootout between armed supporters of rival mayors in the northern city of Magsingal, Ilakas Sur, police spokesman Brigadier General Roderick Alba said. Four more were injured.

Police in the northern province of Nuevo Esijo also arrested two dozen people and confiscated weapons, including five M-16 rifles, a 12-caliber rifle and 15 pistols, after a shootout between bodyguards of two candidates vying for mayor Tinio.

Five people were injured in the incident, resulting in the same number of sports wagons being cut by bullets, Alba said.

More than 18,000 positions, from president to city council deputy, are nominated in the election.

It looks like the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos will win the presidential election, returning the clan to the top of political power.

Human rights groups, Catholic church leaders and opponents see the election as a moment for democracy in the country amid fears that Marcos Jr. could run a heavy fist.

Police, armed forces and the Coast Guard traveled throughout the archipelago to help secure polling stations and ballots, escort election officials and guard checkpoints.

About 48,000 soldiers and 16,000 police officers are involved in the deployment, officials said.

“Based on our planning … we are confident that we will have a safe and orderly election,” said Colonel Ramon Zagala, a spokesman for the armed forces.

Since January 9, there have been 16 “confirmed election-related incidents,” including four shootings and “minor illegal detentions,” Alba said.

This compares to 133 incidents during the 2016 presidential election and 60 in the 2019 by-elections.

Police spokesman Colonel Jean Fajardo attributes the sharp drop to a heightened security presence, as well as military and police operations aimed at “free firearms” and private armed groups.

The election commission basically bans the carrying of weapons during the election period, which lasts until June 8.

‘Don’t sleep’

Experts say the explosion of social networks, which has made it easier to report incidents, and the growing dominance of political dynasties that stifle competition in elections have helped quell election violence.

The deadliest case of political violence in the country recorded 58 people being killed in 2009 when gunmen allegedly belonging to a local military leader in the southern Philippines attacked a group of people to prevent a competitor from running in the election.

Thirty-two victims were journalists covering the contest, making the attack also the deadliest in history against media professionals.

The introduction of e-voting in 2010 has complicated the widespread vote-rigging that has historically suffered in the Philippine elections.

But Marcos Jr., who still insists he was tricked into winning the 2016 vice presidential race, warned of election fraud in those polls and urged his supporters to be vigilant.

“We will win until you are asleep on Monday so that there is no more tragedy,” Marcos Jr. told hundreds of thousands of fans at his last election rally on Saturday.

“A lot of unwanted things happen when we stop paying attention.”

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