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Three security guards shot dead at Philippine polling station

Three security guards were killed Monday when gunmen opened fire at a polling station in a restive southern region of the Philippines, police said, as millions voted in national elections.

Elections are a traditionally volatile time in a country with lax gun laws and a violent political culture, but officials said this season had been comparatively peaceful with 15 “election-related” incidents recorded.

The deadliest was a shooting in Buluan municipality on Mindanao island, a haven for multiple armed groups ranging from the private armies of warlord-politicians to communist insurgents and Islamist militants.

Former mayor Ibrahim Mangudadatu told AFP that people inside the school being used as a polling station ran for cover when the shooting started shortly after voting got under way.

A fourth guard was wounded in the attack, said Maguindanao provincial police spokesman Major Roldan Kuntong.

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Gunmen also attacked a polling station in Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province, leaving one voter dead and two wounded, police said.

That came after five grenades exploded outside a polling station in Datu Unsay municipality, Maguindanao province, late Sunday, wounding nine.

Police said the victims had walked from their remote mountain villages to cast their votes at the municipal hall when polling stations opened across the country on Monday morning.

“It is their custom to come down early from their villages, which are located eight to 12 hours away on foot,” said Kuntong.

In 2009, Maguindanao was the scene of the country’s deadliest single incident of political violence on record.

Fifty-eight people were massacred as gunmen allegedly working for a local warlord attacked a group of people to stop a rival from filing his election candidacy.

“The security situation is good in terms of our people being able to vote and there’s continuity of the electoral process,” said armed forces spokesman Ramon Zagala.

“It’s still a good, low number and we hope it will continue to be low until the end.”

Polls officially closed at 7:00 pm (1100 GMT).

Vice presidential front runner Sara Duterte, the former mayor of Mindanao’s Davao City, told reporters she hoped voters would not end up “disenfranchised” as a result of the violence.

The son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos is the favourite to win the presidential vote, which would return the clan to the pinnacle of political power decades after they were ousted.

Thousands of personnel from the police, armed forces and coastguard have fanned out across the archipelago to help secure polling stations and ballots, escort election officials and guard checkpoints.

Commission on Elections chairman Saidamen Pangarungan said the election was “relatively peaceful” compared with 2019, when 60 violent incidents were recorded. AFP