THIS is the proper time for election candidates to court the votes.

Starting today, and until May 8, the ball is in the election candidates' court. It is the time for the candidates to let the voters know who they are and what they stand for, and the time to convince voters to select them on election day.

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The campaign period for candidates for national positions begins today and will end on May 8. For local positions, the campaign period will start on March 26 and end on May 8 also.

Prior to today, national candidates were able only to attend forums they were invited to or call gatherings of supporters. They could not stage rallies or post their photos on public walls.

Today marks the start of campaigning and candidates can have the stage to present themselves and rally support. Candidates to national polls now have the legal and moral opportunity to force themselves on voters and, most especially, to keep the promise they made prior to the campaign period that when the serious stuff begins, they would play by the rules.

For the voters, it is the time to listen, to know, and then to sift through all the noise from pre-campaign and campaign days to come to a decision on who to vote for on May 10, election day.

Part of the expectation of voters during this period is for the candidates to abide by the campaign rules. Didn't they all promise to play fair when the campaign begins?

Already there were reports of candidates' posters sprouting in metropolitan areas a day or two days before the start of the campaign period. Police in Metro Manila caught youths pasting campaign posters of presidential candidate Richard Gordon over the weekend. After rounding them up, the youths were brought back to where they were arrested and ordered to tear down what they pasted.

Under Resolution 8758 issued by the Commission on Elections en banc, campaign materials placed outside the designated common poster areas will be torn down. Even those posters, streamers or billboards put up before the campaign period started would be removed, and with consequences to the campaigns of these candidates, poll body spokesman James Jimenez warned.

Any illegally placed campaign material would be blamed on the candidate whose name appears on the posters or streamers. Section 29 of Resolution 8758 says, "All materials and advertisements showing the picture, image or name of the person made or done in violation of election laws prior to campaign period shall be immediately removed by said candidate within three days after the effectivity of these rules and the start of campaign period. Otherwise, he or she shall be presumed to have committed the pertinent election offense." Violators may face imprisonment of one to six years and disqualification from holding public office.

In almost every election, candidates seem to get away with violating the rule limiting the use of campaign materials--the placement, sizes and kinds.

It is the proper time to undertake their election campaign. It is the proper time for candidates to show they can be good citizens by following the rules. If they cannot be good citizens then they cannot be expected to become good leaders.

(ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)