Campaigning for the May 10 Philippine elections shifted into high gear on Friday as politicians running for tens of thousands of congressional and local offices started to woo voters amid fears of an outbreak of violence.

Proclamation rallies and motorcades were launched across the Philippines for candidates competing for seats in Congress, provincial and municipal governments.

Election officials called on candidates to strictly adhere to the rules of the campaign and to avoid disputes that could result in violence between warring politicians.

“We have to be doubly vigilant,” said Rene Sarmiento, a commissioner on the Commission on Elections.

Since January, 20 people have been killed in election—related violence, according to police data. The victims included candidates for local offices and their supporters.

Nearly 18,000 offices are being contested in the elections, including 222 seats in the House of Representatives, 80 provincial governors and vice-governors, and 1,514 municipal mayors and vice-mayors.

Elections Commission spokesman James Jimenez, admitted that election—related violence usually increases when the 45—day period of campaigning for local posts starts because “people are more hot—headed in local politics.” He added that the introduction of automated vote counting could contribute to the violence.

“There’s that remote and perverse possibility that automation might actually contribute to the slight increase in election violence,” he said. “The tendency is to try to pre-empt the elections by just killing your opponent or at least hurting them.” Among the candidates vying for seats in Congress are President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former first lady Imelda Marcos and seven—time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.

Ms. Arroyo, whose candidacy in her home province of Pampanga has sparked criticism, skipped any proclamation rallies and opted to stay with her husband, who was rushed to hospital on Thursday for a heart—related condition.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said Ms. Arroyo was expected to stay with the first gentleman, Jose Miguel, in hospital.

Ms. Marcos started her campaign for a return to Congress with a Mass and a visit to the refrigerated crypt of her late husband, former president Ferdinand Marcos, in Batac town in Ilocos Norte province, 400 kilometres north of Manila The 80—year—old flamboyant former first lady said she decided to come out of retirement from politics “for what is good and right” and to protect the legacy of her husband.

“I am not just running to be a congresswoman but to be a mother who serves to no end,” she said before embarking on a motorcade around the province in an orange pantsuit with emerald jewelry.

She shrugged off criticism that her age might be a hindrance to her candidacy.

“They say I am old, but I tell you, I can still do this, and I will win,” she said to the cheers of supporters, adding that a grandmother was better at taking care of and loving her family.

Candidates for president, vice-president and senators started their campaigns in February.

More than 50 million Filipinos are registered to vote on May 10.

For the first time in Philippine elections, votes would be counted by machine and then electronically transmitted to a national server in Manila. Results could be known within hours for local contests and 48 hours for the national positions.

More In: International | News