New COMELEC Chief Asked to Pursue Green Electoral Reforms

Amid a flurry of opinions regarding his appointment as Chairman of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), environmental advocates today pose another challenge to lawyer Sixto Brillantes, Jr.: “green” the elections.

“In view of his promise to carry out massive reforms within the commission, we urge Chairman Brillantes to equally introduce changes that will ‘green’ and cut the wastefulness in future polls,” said Roy Alvarez, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.

In a letter sent to the COMELEC headquarters in Intramuros, Manila, groups belonging to the EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental watchdog, expressed hope that a re-organized poll body under Chairman Brillantes will work for both the political rights, as well as the environmental rights, of the Filipino people.

The letter was signed by environmental leaders from the Alaga Lahat, Angkan ng Mandirigma, Ang NARS, Buklod Tao, Cavite Green Coalition, Citizens Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Krusada sa Kalikasan, Miriam PEACE, Mother Earth Foundation, November 17 Movement, Philippine Earth Justice Center and Zero Waste Philippines.

“We hope that the COMELEC, under your watch, will exercise effective leadership to protect not only the sanctity of the ballot, but also safeguard the environment from further degradation associated with political activities,” the groups wrote to Brillantes..

Reckless political activities that waste resources and pollute the surroundings have to go, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

“Our monitoring of the 2007 and 2010 elections shows blatant breach of electoral as well as health and environmental regulations traceable to the failure of COMELEC, national agencies and local government units (LGUs) from enforcing existing electoral and environmental laws,” the groups recounted.

Some of the typical environmental lapses that have occurred in past elections, include:

– the uncontrolled plastering of campaign posters outside COMELEC-designated areas, most notoriously on trees, electric posts and walls

-the hanging of campaign flaglets, lanterns and streamers in streets and alleys;

-the display of “indirect” campaign-related banners such as graduation and fiesta “greetings” and announcements extolling the projects and achievements of politicians;

-the unregulated noise from mobile political propaganda and during campaign meetings;

-the rampant distribution and littering of sample ballots on election day;

-the open burning of campaign waste, a habit which COMELEC offices even practice,
despite the ban on burning under RA 9003; and

-the failure to immediately remove campaign materials after the election period.

The groups also called attention to the failure of the COMELEC to promulgate the Implementing Rules and Regulations for sectoral representation at local legislative bodies as required by the Constitution and R.A. 7160, the Local Government Code

“We hope that in 2013 elections, the mandate for sectoral representation for local lawmaking bodies will finally be made,” the groups emphasized.

“Under the new COMELEC leadership, a truly participatory governance where sectoral representatives are elected by the constituents, will become a reality. The marginal sectors are, in fact, the worst victims of the ecological crisis and need stronger voice in the local lawmaking councils,” they said.

The groups provided Chairman Brillantes with a list of recommendations, which, if implemented, will “lead to an environmentally-responsible exercise of the people’s right of suffrage and authentic participatory governance through sectoral representation.”

The list includes proposals for the COMELEC to:

a. adopt a resolution declaring Zero Waste as a policy to effectively reduce trash in all future electoral exercises.

b. create a unit, ideally led by the Chairman or one of his Commissioners, to take charge in “greening” the elections and no-nonsense enforcement of laws, in partnership with stakeholders.

c. require all individuals and groups running for election to sign a Memorandum of Agreement stipulating the obligation of candidates to comply with lawful and environmentally-friendly campaign practices, including a mandatory post-campaign clean up.

d. incorporate environmental responsibility in its public information drive for clean, orderly, peaceful, honest and fair elections.

e. impose a ban on campaign materials that are hardly reused or recycled and are habitually littered or burned in violation of R.A. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and related local ordinances.

f. ensure full compliance to the ban on open burning, particularly of campaign posters and banners removed during clean up operations.

g. regulate campaign motorcades, if not impose an outright ban, to address our rising problems with traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change, especially in urban centers such as Metro Manila.

h. set regulations, in coordination with the Department of Health, on poll campaign noise.

i. adopt and popularize practical guidelines to assist political parties, party-list groups and candidates in preventing and reducing their campaign waste.

The EcoWaste Coalition reaffirmed its readiness to collaborate with the COMELEC in the effort to “green” the elections that will require the input and participation of all sectors.

The network’s lawyer volunteers also offered their assistance in drafting the IRR for the much-sought sectoral representation in local lawmaking bodies.