What are the candidates and their handlers thinking? That their campaign materials posted in areas not designated by the Commission on Elections will be allowed to remain where these were put up, perhaps stealthily and in the dead of night, or likely even defiantly? So that if the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority has not been tearing down the illegally posted stuff, the metro already degraded by urban sprawl and ghetto conditions would be a jungle of eyesores?
Actually, this isn’t even a new problem. Election candidates and their minions have been plastering the landscape with illegal campaign materials for years, in violation of Comelec Resolution No. 9981. The resolution states that candidates may post campaign materials only in designated common poster areas; that materials found outside these areas, whether in public or private spaces, are illegal; and that violators will be punished with one to six years in jail, the loss of voting rights, and removal from office.
Evidently, that has not proved to be much of a deterrent. In 2010, the MMDA tore down truckloads of illegally posted materials—“a usual problem during the campaign season,” according to one Comelec lawyer.
In 2013, the problem got so bad that the Department of Public Works and Highways took it upon itself to clear public infrastructure of the illegally posted materials—not only a difficult, but also apparently a dangerous, move because, per a DPWH regional director, “[the DPWH workers] could get killed by the politicians or their followers.” And, of course, the candidates’ supporters simply replaced the confiscated materials as soon as the government operatives had left the area.
Also in 2013, the Comelec, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of the Interior and Local Government formed a watchdog group to monitor and arrest those who were littering the landscape. The candidates who broke the rules with impunity were dubbed “epal”—slang for “mapapel,” meaning projecting oneself in ways exaggerated or false. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said it was the concerned agencies’ “way of supporting the ‘anti-epal’ campaign, or the citizens’ call on politicians not to use government projects as accessory resources to drumbeat their accomplishments at the expense of taxpayer money.”
This year, the MMDA’s “Oplan Baklas” moved quickly. Since Feb. 9—the official start of the campaign period—it has been confiscating illegally posted tarps and reporting the erring candidates to the Comelec. By Feb. 15, some 6.7 tons of the stuff had been collected.
And no one among the five presidential candidates is above the fray: MMDA Metro Parkway Clearing Group head Francis Martinez said all five were represented in the illegal tarps taken down. Ironically, even the former MMDA chair Francis Tolentino, who is aspiring to be senator, is a violator.
Thankfully, the illegal stuff is being turned over to poor communities and groups such as the EcoWaste Coalition for recycling. “The seized campaign materials are valuable resources that should be put to good use. It will be such a huge waste if these illegal election paraphernalia are buried in landfills. We can and should find appropriate uses for them,” said EcoWaste Coalition coordinator Aileen Lucero. She said the confiscated tarps could be “repurposed into coin purses, pouch bags, grocery bags and beach bags [and] sewn into mail and shoe organizers, worker’s aprons, tool belts, laundry baskets and even as receptacles for office or household recyclables.”
The MMDA has also donated two tons of tarps to the Babuyan Islands Mission, for recycling into bags for schoolchildren and tents for typhoon evacuees. The bags and tents are to be distributed to impoverished communities in the Babuyan Islands, Batanes and Southern Palawan. Surely this should make the candidates and their supporters cringe.
The shocking expenditures made on campaign materials at a time when impoverished families in the cities and in the countryside cast about for the wherewithal to secure three square meals a day have got to stop.
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