Billboard blight


I think that I shall never see

“A poem as lovely as a tree

“Indeed unless the billboards fall,

“I think I’ll never see a tree at all.”

This piece of doggerel was written by a Joyce Kilmer wannabe in the United States, but he might as well have been expressing the thoughts of Metro Manila as well as provincial residents who are being overwhelmed by the billboard blight.

The issue of proliferating, humongous billboards was recently brought again to the public consciousness by billboards featuring some members of the Philippine rugby team wearing nothing but briefs that emphasized their “bulges.” Mayor Benhur Abalos of Mandaluyong ordered the billboards taken down on the grounds that they did not have the necessary permit and could be morally offensive to children of tender age.

The numerous and huge advertising billboards have contributed to the visual pollution and “uglification” of the metropolis. On the 23-kilometer Edsa alone, roughly 2,000 gigantic billboards are standing, which means that on average, there is about one billboard for every 11 meters.

The monster billboards shut off the commuters’ view of the wonderful blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Some of the billboards, because of their exciting, sensual and sometimes overtly sexual content, can be distracting and dangerous to drivers. They can also provide a convenient jump-off point for would-be suicides.

Crashing billboards during the onslaught of typhoons have killed people. In September 2006, strong winds brought by typhoon “Milenyo” toppled a huge billboard near Estrella Street and Edsa in Makati, killing a man, injuring several others and crushing two vehicles. In October 2009 typhoon “Pepeng” skirted Metro Manila but still its powerful winds toppled several billboards and trees.

Last year typhoon “Basyang” toppled billboards, but it was a good thing it hit Metro Manila at night and did not cause any death or injury. This year, advertising companies, having learned their lesson, scrambled to take down their billboards before typhoon “Bebeng” struck.

Because of the furor caused by the billboard controversy, the Metro Manila Development Authority has lately been on overdrive. Last month it filed criminal complaints against owners of buildings and outdoor advertising firms that have installed huge billboards without getting any permit, in violation of the National Building Code. It is demolishing billboards on Edsa that are found violating the code and have no permits from local government units.

For their part, advertisers and advertising organizations are urging the government to go slow on its anti-commercial billboard campaign. They say that billboards help generate consumer sales and thus serve the manufacturing and retail industries, and ultimately create thousands of jobs. They also contend that accidents on roads and highways are mostly caused by reckless driving, and not by the supposed distraction that billboards provide. They say that billboards are built for commuters and nondrivers.

Billboard supporters say that they are a time-honored mode of communication that imparts useful information to millions. They also point out that they constitute protected commercial speech. Fr. Joaquin Bernas, an Inquirer columnist and constitutional expert, referring particularly to the controversial “briefs” billboards, opined that they were not obscene. But he pointed out that a recent court decision mentioned “relative obscenity.” Obscenity could be relative to the age level of the viewers, and advertising billboards can be seen by everybody, from toddlers to senior citizens.

Given the state of our economy, the total dismantling and outlawing of advertising billboards may be too drastic a measure. A more prudent course of action might be to enact an Advertising Billboard Code that would consolidate all the rules pertaining to billboards. And before the government is forced to lay down the law on the content on billboards, the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines should define what is allowable and what is not.

Also, rules should be laid down on such things as the size and spacing of outdoor advertising, so that the cities and the highways would be relieved of visual pollution and the billboard blight.

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  • Anonymous

    Relative obscenity.

    When I was in college we would often argue a lot of things are based on relative opinion and description. That is how people get away with it; you may look at things this way but i look at it differently. The photographer who took that shot sees art and beauty while a young person may only see that bulge in the middle. Relative things can be dangerous, most especially if we let things go out of hand.

    I agree with the editor. Set guidelines and set rules. Make things clear on what advertisers can or cannot put. Sometimes brands go too far. A little bulge or a little cleavage does not hurt anyone, but post it everywhere in EDSA and you might as well launch a skin and rave party.

    More than the billboards though, I do hope the MMDA stops sweating on the easy stuff. Yes, they’ve said their piece on this issue but it’s time to move on. Fix roads, clear the drainage, fortify buildings and other structures. Fix the important stuff. Because I’m sure that when the floods come, it’s not the billboard we would worry about but our lives.

  • shadow moses

    beneficial to economy?
    how about this, OVERTAX billboards, make it sure that its going to be a very costly affair for businesses.

    and for godsake, there are million ways to sell a product other than billboards.

    calling all senators, stop investigating, law needed here.

  • larry

    those billboards are just indications of the consumer orientation of our society.  so businessmen are taking advantage of the people’s desire to feel good, look good, kahit walang matira sa sweldo, kahit so many are below poverty line.  i remember a politician before saying ” the philippines is a rich country pretending to be poor”.  pls say that again and tell us its not the other way around

  • Anonymous

    Driving requires serious concentration, not just on the road but on nearby vehicles as well. You get distracted even for just a couple of seconds because a billboard catches your eye, BAM! you hit another car. Or SPLAT! you kill a hapless pedestrian.

    Who cares what the content was of the billboard that stole your attention? You just damaged another person’s property or life.


  • Anonymous

    It appears the opening doggerel was indeed written for the PH too. There are three main issues: (1) our advertising code; (2) rental revenues and locations for billboards; (3) safety and aesthetics.

    (1) Our laws should have defined what can and cannot be done when it comes to advertising. If purely left to advertising boards, they will only define it whichever way beneficial to the advertiser and not the public. Advertising certain products should be legislated. Tobacco, liquor, other products for mature audiences and market may be limited to only certain media e.g. underwear products only for adult magazines.

    (2) The desire to earn income had taken precedence over what’s lawful, and have as well, compromised safety and aesthetics issues. Both national and local government laws should have also been clear on where and how these billboards can be located. Safety considerations should always take precedence. An individual’s right to earn income must be covered by law and regulations and never done at the expense of the general public.

    (3) Government, both national and local, should take the lead in public safety and aesthetic issues. And these issues should be non-negotiable insofar as the government is concerned. Government’s non-involvement and insensitivity to the issue on billboards had caused and created this Frankenstein amidst our community. It’s about time the government put its feet down on this issue.

    Finally, what is pathetic is the human desensitization to the issue. Only a handful seem to care as to what’s happening to our society being controlled and programmed by the media. Advertising materials which used to being limited to only adult magazines have now found its way in our streets, highways, and dinner tables. I’m surprised why we have not heard any comments from the CBCP or other religious groups about this same issue. I guess we all must have been indeed desensitized and are now unclear about what’s right or wrong. We argue the RH bill to death but find nothing wrong with what we see, hear, and experience everyday in our streets, communities, and the media. People have been allowed to literally get away with murder in our society.

  • Emily C

    The original verse by Ogden Nash goes like this:
    I think that I shall never seeA billboard lovely as a tree.Indeed, unless the billboards fallI’ll never see a tree at all.
    It’s minor alright, but please give the witty man some credit.

  • Anonymous

    Billboards that uglify the landscape, offend morals, and affront everyone’s sense of decency repeal the general public and defeat their very reason for being. It’s folly for them to be there in the first place, the market will make that sure,.Then again, beauty or ugliness is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Anonymous

    What if yung mga materials na gnagamit paggawa ng mga billboards, ipagawa na lang ng bahay ng mga informal settlers…

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