Nine people were injured when five grenades exploded outside a polling station in a busy southern Philippines hours before voting in national elections began, police said on Monday.
Elections are a traditionally volatile period in a country with lax gun laws and a violent political culture, but police said this season has been relatively peaceful.
The attack took place Sunday night in the municipality of Datu Unsay on the island of Mindanao, a haven for various armed groups, from communist insurgents to Islamic militants.
Minutes later, a grenade exploded in the neighboring municipality of Shariff Aguak, but there were no casualties. Both cities are located in Maguindanao Province.
Police said victims had left their remote mountain villages to vote for the mayor’s office when polling stations opened at 6:00 am (22:00 GMT on Sunday) on Monday across the archipelago.
“It is their custom to get down early from their villages, which are located eight to 12 hours on foot,” said provincial police spokesman Major Roldan Kuntong.
In 2009, Maguindanao was the scene of the deadliest incident of political violence ever recorded in the country.
Fifty-eight people were massacred when gunmen allegedly working for a local warlord attacked a group of people to prevent a rival from running for office.
Dozens of the victims were journalists covering the contest.
A spokesperson for the Elections Commission said they were trying to verify whether Sunday night’s grenade explosions were related to the elections.
Vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte, who is a former mayor of the city of Davao, Mindanao, told reporters that she hopes voters do not end up “deprived” as a result of the violence.
More than 18,000 positions, from president to councilor, are up for grabs in the elections.
The son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos is the favorite to win the presidential election, which would return the clan to the height of political power.
Human rights groups, Catholic Church leaders and opponents see the elections as a turning point for the country’s democracy, amid fears that Marcos Junior could rule with a clenched fist.
Thousands of police, armed forces and coast guards spread across the archipelago to help secure polling stations and ballots, escort polling officials and checkpoints.
As of Sunday, there have been 16 “validated election-related incidents” since January 9, including four shootings and a “small illegal detention”, said national police spokesman Brigadier General Roderick Alba.
This compares with 133 incidents during the 2016 presidential election and 60 in the 2019 midterm polls.