IT WAS a pleasant surprise while in Manila late last week to discover that although the campaign for the national elections was already well under way, no campaign poster or streamer was visible along the streets and highways of the metropolis. The Commission on Elections was steadfast in enforcing the ban against those campaign paraphernalia, the net effect being that Metro Manila appeared surprisingly clean.

If Comelec was able to enforce the ban there, I wonder why it seems helpless here in our Province. The local candidates have not even started to paste their own posters, but the power lines within and outside Bacolod City, public buildings and other places banned by the Omnibus Election Code from being pasted with campaign materials are already bursting with the faces of presidential, vice-presidential and senatorial candidates. I hope our Comelec registrars do not intend to let all these violations pass. Their inaction only serves to encourage local candidates to do the same things when their own campaign period begins on March 26.

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There are only three general areas where campaign posters and streamers are allowed. These are on Comelec-designated poster areas, on the headquarters of political parties and candidates and on private property, provided the owner has consented to their being pasted there. These campaign gimmicks are banned in other areas such as electric posts, trees, sidewalks and government buildings, and the Comelec can deputize the police, government employees and even private volunteers to make sure that the ban is strictly enforced.

May we therefore bring this matter up to our Provincial Comelec Registrar, Lawyer Jessie Suarez and to Bacolod City Registrar Ryan Castro? Our election laws provide enough space, both physical and legal, for candidates to set up their posters, streamers and campaign gimmicks without dirtying up our cities and highways. There is absolutely no need for them to violate the law. And if you think the violation by our candidates running for national positions is bad, watch what happens when our local candidates get the impression the Comelec will let them get away with it, too!

What with the delayed production of the PCOS machines, the delayed training of teachers that will man them, the questions being raised about the Comelec’s preparedness for automated elections, the last-minute disqualification of elected officials like Governors Panlilio and Padaca and the questionable qualification of certain “party-list” groups hitting the news one after the other, the cold neutrality and the credibility of the Comelec is already on the line in the eyes of many Filipino voters. To have it also appear as helpless to check even such a simple chore as enforcing the laws against illegal postering and excessive campaign spending will really hurt the credibility and the success of the May 2010 electoral exercise. The question that our Comelec officials ought to ask themselves is:

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE COUNTRY IF THIS ELECTION FAILS?