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MINDFULLY GREENIE

The greening of the Comelec

It is 56 days before the national and local elections,” highlights the countdown meter at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) website, www.comelec.gov.ph.  Commuters in urban areas need no reminders, however. Posters of varying dimensions and colors of candidates are in the upsurge and are visible everywhere.

The seekers of elective posts at the local level are obviously taking advantage of the time before the start of the official campaign period where technically, they are not yet considered as candidates, thus spared of the consequences of violations of election laws.

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Portion of Section 15 of RA 8436, as amended by Section 13 of RA 9369, provides that “…Any person who files his certificate of candidacy within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy: Provided, That, unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall effect only upon that start of the aforesaid campaign period…”

The campaign period for candidates for Member, House of Representatives, and elective regional, provincial, city and municipal officials, starts on March 29, 2013 to May 11, 2013. Since March 29 falls on a holiday, and campaign is prohibited on this day, the official campaign period kicks off on March 30.

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The Penera Ruling (G.R. No. 181613, Nov. 25, 2009) of the Supreme Court affirmed that a candidate is liable for election offenses only upon the start of the campaign period. It noted that the Court cannot “turn a blind eye to the express and clear language of the law that “any unlawful act or omission applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the campaign period.”

But, if they are not deemed liable for electoral offenses for acts committed before the campaign period, they can still be held accountable for other crimes related to destruction of public properties, including our almost forsaken natural heritage, our trees.

Under RA 3571, cutting or destruction of planted or growing trees, flowering plants and shrubs or plants of ornamental value along public roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or in any public ground is prohibited.  Violators can face imprisonment.

The provision in RA 3571 is reiterated by the Comelec in its Resolution No. 9615 dated Jan. 15, 2013.   Section 18 declares that “A common poster area does not refer to a post, a tree, the wall of a building or an existing public structure that is in active use…” It adds that:

“In no instance shall an Election Officer designate any trees, flowering plants, shrubs located along public roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or in any other public grounds as common poster areas.  In cases where parties and candidates still persist in displaying, posting, or exhibiting of their campaign or election propaganda on trees and plants, they shall be prosecuted for violation of these Rules, without prejudice to the institution of a criminal complaint for the violation of Republic Act No. 3571.”

Realizing the necessity of mainstreaming environmental protection and ensuring public health and safety, and  conscious of the proliferation of hazardous and toxic substances in household  goods and commodities,  the Comelec has likewise taken a big leap forward  by  providing in Section 6 , last paragraph of Comelec Resolution No. 9615 that  “Parties and candidates are hereby encouraged to use recyclable and environment-friendly materials and avoid those that contain hazardous chemicals and substances in the production of their campaign and election propaganda.” It adds that, “In local government units where local legislation governing the use of plastic and other similar materials exist, parties and candidates shall comply with the same.”

Relative to the foregoing, the Municipal Government of Rosario Cavite deserves commendation for banning the use of tarpaulins in its promulgation of Executive Order 51, Series of 2013.

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The EcoWaste Coalition has commended the municipality’s action to arrest the growing volume and toxicity of municipal solid waste by controlling uses of plastic tarpaulins, which are often coated with polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin. EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.

Said Sonia Mendoza who heads the EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Plastics:  “Tarps, like other plastic materials, do not easily degrade, posing serious disposal problems to LGUs who have to deal with discarded tarps. PVC tarps, in particular, contain lots of synthetic chemical additives and plasticizers, making it extremely difficult to safely recycle or dispose of at their end-of-life.”

A recent investigation of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force Chemical Safety found cadmium, a carcinogenic substance, in the ink used for tarpaulin banners in the range of 71 to 1,253 parts per million (ppm).

Cadmium is one of the 48 chemicals and chemical compounds in the Philippine Priority Chemical List (PCL) “that have been determined to potentially pose unreasonable risks to public health, workplace and environment.”

The European Union beginning December 2011 banned the substance in plastics and other specific uses to “reduce environmental pollution from cadmium,” while in Minnesota, USA, cadmium exceeding 100 ppm is banned in any pigment, paint, dye or ink since 1998. (http://ecowastecoalition.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2013-02-07T08:48:00%2B08:00&max-results=5&start=15&by-date=false)

Aside from its green mindset, the Comelec has attracted the attention of the public for its admirable determination to prosecute violators, especially those related to violations of R.A. No. 9006, The Fair Elections Act and its implementing rules and regulations.  It has required senatorial candidate Jamby Madrigal to explain the controversial social networking contest, which she alleges, was done by her volunteers, without her approval.

It is hoped that with these positive developments taking place, more candidates will comply with their shared responsibilities to protect our non-negotiable rights to life, health, a healthful and balanced ecology and a sustainable tomorrow.

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