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Peru's Air Force Opens a UFO Office, and It's Twitter-Friendly

Mulder and Scully never made it to South America during their decade-long search for extraterrestial life, but if they had, they would have certainly found an ally in Peru. Indeed, the Peruvian Air Force is reviving their own version of the X-files: an office called the Department of Investigation of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena (DIFAA), which will exclusively investigate UFO sightings and other "anomalous aerial phenomena."  

The DIFAA was originally created in 2001, first making the news when its chief investigator, Anthony Choy, began looking into the mysterious  "Chulucanas Incident," a series of events in 2001 that captured the imaginations of Peruvians for years afterwards. Choy describes the case at length in the video below, but here's the short version: On October 13, 2001, in Chulucanas, hundreds of people observed  eight spheres of red-orange light moving intelligently through the sky for over five hours. A couple of weeks later, someone caught video of a bright, tear-shapred object about 80 feet long hovering near the city. A few minutes later, several others saw mysterious lights landing in the woods. It was the DIFAA's first officially documented UFO case.

 

The office closed five years ago due to unspecified "administrative problems." Now, the Air Force is reinstating it, in response increased reports of UFO activity. The office will document and analyze sightings of unexplained flying objects with the help of Air Force personnel, sociologists, archaeologists and astronomers. Colonel Julio Vucetich, the head of the Air Force's aerospace division told the Guardian that new technology, like cellphones, Facebook and Twitter, have made it easier for the public to both share and accept UFO sightings.

Col. Vucetich doesn't explicitly say he believes in aliens, but he doesn't seem particularly interested in debunking them, either. In fact, Peru's Institute for Studies of Historic Aerospace, is publishing a book of UFO sightings in Peru, based on news clipping and reports from the 1950s and 1960s. And with all of the new reports, there's no shortage of material for a volume two.

In 2010, for example, a pilot caught video of a mysterious, helmet-like object emerging from a cloud bank. In 2012, a strange metallic object was captured on video in La Molina, while another steampunk-looking object was caught on tape as it twirled over some mountains. And this year, cellphone footage of a fiery UFO descending over Lake Titicaca made headlines, again.

Peru has been a hotbed of UFO activity for decades, not least because many suspect that the Nasca Lines -- an ancient collection of about 300  immense geometric figures carved into the deserts of Southern Peru -- were actually chiseled into the landscape by ancient astronauts. It sounds far-fetched, but perhaps the DIFAA is willing to take on the case...  

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Election Day in the Philippines Means 500 Guns, 191 Knives and 68 Grenades

The Philippines boasts one of Asia's oldest democracies. But as it struggles to rein in political violence and corruption, that distinction is exactly a point of pride.

On Monday, more than 40,000 villages in the Philippines voted in municipal elections and, in the run-up, at least 22 candidates and supporters were killed in election-related violence, according to the Associated Press. Across the country, 27 others were wounded in shootouts between rival candidates, and 588 were arrested for violating the election gun ban. (Police also confiscated some "500 firearms, 4,000 rounds of ammunition, 191 knives and 68 grenades.") Before the polls opened on Monday, the Commission on Elections (called Comelec) had announced that 889 areas of the country were on their watch list because of the presence of private armies, intense political rivalries, and hrecent histories of election-related violence. Some 94 villages failed to hold elections at all, while more than 300 others reported massive vote buying.

Elections -- the most visible mechanism of a representative government -- are regularly the impetus for chaos and bloodshed in the Philippines, where even the lowest levels of government are plagued by violence, fraud and the weak rule of law.

In the worst case of election violence to date, 58 people were massacred on November 23, 2009, by the private army of a powerful political family in Maguindanao. Among the dead were relatives of a rival candidate, as well as 30 media workers covering the election. The killers used a backhoe to bury the bodies in a mass grave, some still alive.  About 200 people have been charged in association with the murders, but no one has been convicted.

In theory, the Philippines has the makings of a vibrant democracy: an engaged electorate, a strong constitution, and a history of successful popular movements. But political clans, rather than political parties, continue to dominate public discourse and control public office. The historic concentration of wealth in the hands of a few families has helped to create powerful, political dynasties, while a measure signed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ensured the proliferation of private armies and state-backed militias, often used to secure political victories for wealthy candidates. Though President Aquino revoked the measure last year, and promised to dismantle private armies ahead of the 2013 elections, cracking down on political violence has proven much more difficult than expected.

Election-related violence usually begins 90 days before polling day (sometimes well before, as in in the case of the Maguindanao massacre), and often continues for up 30 days afterwards. In Mindanao, losing candidates have been known to engage in kidnappings and violence to recoup the financial losses associated with their unsuccessful bids. Winning, of course, offers huge financial rewards. Congressional representatives, for example, receive millions of dollars per year in discretionary money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) -- purportedly for the purpose of local infrastructure projects. In reality, members of Congress have been using the money as a slush fund for re-election efforts or for other types personal gain.

The Aquino administration's much-touted anti-corruption campaign has borne some small successes -- such as the impeachment of an unscrupulous chief justice -- but has yet to meaningfully address the culture of corruption and cronyism plaguing the country's political system.

It's often said that one of the Philippines' proudest moments came after the People Power Revolution in 1986. when CBS reporter Bob Simon declared that the Filipinos were "teaching the world" about democracy. But as the country struggles to hold elections free of violence nearly 30 years later, it seems the Philippines still has a lot to learn.

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