IN many ways, the recently held midterm elections were a more-of-the-same affair, with the usual reports of disenfranchised voters on election day; the massive vote-buying and patented cheating operations to manipulate the results perpetrated during the voting, counting and canvassing of votes; and the high casualty count from poll-related violence.
That the May elections were “dirty,” however, also assumed a routinely literal meaning. Because, in spite of the initial display of political will by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), it proved futile in preventing the avalanche of election campaign materials from swamping every conceivable area all over the country in the few weeks leading to the polls.
The perennial “wastefulness” of the May elections has so exasperated a coalition of environmental advocacy groups that it has called on the Comelec to adopt “green electoral reforms” that would dramatically alter the way election campaigns are conducted in the country.
“We find that the Comelec did not exercise sufficient leadership to ensure that the elections would not only be free of fraud, but also of trash during and after the three-month campaign period,” said Rei Panaligan, coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition. “To halt this massive assault against Mother Nature, the Comelec has to institute a zero-waste policy that will green and ensure that election activities conform with the country’s electoral and environmental laws.”
Among the “most brazen environmental lapses” committed during the last elections, observed EcoWaste, were the following:
- the nailing of propaganda materials on trees
- the plastering of posters outside designated areas
- the use of plastic political buntings and other non-recyclable campaign items
- the open burning of illegal posters
- the littering of sample ballots
- the non-conduct of post-campaign clean-up
“We need a policy direction that will effectively reduce election trash and pollution to zero or darn close through the proactive implementation of waste-cutting measures in every facet of the election campaign,” said Panaligan, who is looking at the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in October 2007 as an opportunity for the whole country to try and succeed in eradicating campaign trash.
EcoWaste’s “green electoral reforms” are contained in a memorandum sent to Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. and the four commissioners — Resurreccion Borra, Romeo Brawner, Nicodemo Ferrer, Rene Sarmiento and Florentino Tuason — early this week in an effort to mainstream ecological practices in future elections.
Read the EcoWaste Coalition’s letter-memorandum to the Comelec.
Panaligan said they are willing to work with the poll body in popularizing the zero-waste policy for future elections by conducting briefings to election stakeholders, facilitating education and training on ecological waste management for Comelec personnel, and developing information materials on how to prevent and reduce campaign waste.
One of the coalition’s suggestions is for the poll body to enter into a memorandum of agreement with stakeholders that will stipulate the obligation of political parties, party-list groups and candidates to observe lawful and environmentally-friendly campaign practices, including a mandatory post-campaign clean-up for both poll winners and losers.
For the May polls, the EcoWaste Coalition issued its 10-point guidelines for use by the Comelec, political parties and candidates to prevent and reduce campaign waste. Its Green Electoral Initiative, a collaboration with Greenpeace and Kaisampalad, also rated the “greenness” of senatorial candidates based on their stand and track record on key environmental issues such as climate change, waste trade and the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), sustainable agriculture, deforestation, and air and water pollution.
While many candidates, particularly those who vied for national positions, expressed commitment to EcoWaste’s “waste-free” campaign, Panaligan said it was seldom translated into practice which could have resulted in a significant reduction in election-generated waste.
The likes of winning independent senatorial candidate Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and administration hopeful Juan Miguel Zubiri expressed agreement with the campaign’s goal, even pledging to exercise their moral authority to guide their partymates and supporters in keeping the campaign trash to the minimum. It was not the case, however, judging from how their campaign materials proliferated during the campaign like the rest of the candidates.
EcoWaste also proposed banning campaign materials — plastic posters and banners, plastic buntings, and sample ballots — that are barely reused or recycled and are habitually littered or burned in breach of R.A. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and related local ordinances.
The group also called on the Comelec to regulate campaign motorcades, if not impose an outright ban, to address problems with traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change, especially in urban centers like Metro Manila.