Cleaning up the polls

Here’s one way of making sure the May elections don’t turn dirty: Campaign against poll litterbugs.

Last week, three crucial government agencies came together to form a task force that will strive to counter the expected flood of garbage after the campaign whirlwind.

Boasting the combined might of the Commission on Elections, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Department of the Interior and Local Government, the task force will identify and go after the political parties, individual candidates, and supporters responsible for election-related trash.

This is a great idea given that elections in these parts are exercises in waste, with tarps, streamers and bunting contributing to the detritus that clogs street gutters and storm drains.

It will hopefully minimize the eyesores that plague both the urban and rural areas, and also teach candidates and their handlers to be responsible for their junk (literal and figurative).

Officials of each of the agencies have signed a circular titled “Basura-Free Elections 2013 ‘Kalat ko, Sisinupin Ko,” expressing their intention to enforce portions of the Fair Elections Act, Solid Waste Management Act, and other laws aimed at protecting the environment come election time.

The circular seeks to ensure that, aside from the expected cleanup, campaign stuff will be posted only in designated areas and will all be made of recyclable and environment-friendly materials.

There is no lack of reminders to candidates to be mindful of the environment, if nothing else.

Early this year, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje urged all parties to run “earth-friendly” campaigns and stop nailing posters on trees, and to take down their posters and banners after Election Day.

Nevertheless, the new task force faces a formidable task. Strict enforcement is key, and political will is imperative.

For example, the watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition has pointedly observed that the proclamation rallies of the men heatedly contesting the mayor’s seat in Manila—former President Joseph Estrada and current Mayor Alfredo Lim—left a huge amount of garbage, particularly nonbiodegradable food packaging. This is where the new Comelec ban on the distribution of free food during political rallies may actually help the environment. Comelec Resolution No. 9616 states it is unlawful to “give or accept free of charge, whether directly or indirectly, transportation, food, drinks or things of value; and giving or contributing, whether directly or indirectly, money or things of value for such purpose”—a prohibition that is applicable “during the five hours before and after a public meeting, on the day before the election, and on Election Day.” But, again, strict enforcement is key.

Quezon City has effectively banned plastic posters and tarps with the signing of a new city ordinance. It’s a nice start, but we’re not holding our breath. Recall that immediately after the May 2010 elections, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority began intensive cleanup operations that resulted in the initial collection of garbage enough to fill 15 dump trucks. The then MMDA chair, Oscar Inocentes, stressed the urgency of the task: “We are trying to speed up the operations as much as possible so we can finish before the rainy season starts. Otherwise, these posters will litter the streets, clog the drainage, and cause flooding.”

Considering the hassle and the damage caused by election waste, it’s but fitting to hit the culprits where it hurts: Make them pay. In filing House Bill 3609, Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara seeks to amend the Omnibus Election Code to require “every candidate and political party to remove their respective election propaganda materials immediately after the expiration of the campaign period set forth by law.” Bichara’s measure will require candidates and parties to put up a “bond, cash or surety” to ensure compliance after the campaign, with the Comelec determining how much each should pay if they fail to clean up their mess.

With the right intentions and sense of urgency, the interagency task force is challenged to make a substantial change in the usually grim postelection scenario. Give the country, and the planet, a break.

What was it Paje said? “Let us change the face of Philippine politics with clean elections defined not only by an intelligent electorate but a trash-free exercise as well.”

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Tags: 2013 Elections , Comelec , DENR , editorial , Elections , environment , opinion

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