Clean and green polls in the digital age

National and local elections have been held regularly in the Philippines every three years since 1992. Over the past three decades, the amount of garbage generated by this triennial exercise has grown in volume and toxicity to the detriment of our environment.

Based on news reports, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority collected 206.6 tons of election-related trash in 2016. Another 168.8 tons were collected by the MMDA during the 90-day campaign period of the 2019 mid-term polls, plus seven dump trucks filled with 23.4 tons of sample ballots and similar garbage on the day after the election.

Last September, environmental organizations made an appeal to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to “proactively integrate waste and toxic prevention in the conduct of the upcoming elections.” They lamented that election-related activities have added to the problems already plaguing the nation due to plastic pollution, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Led by the EcoWaste Coalition, the group urged then Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas to champion policies and practices that will protect the country’s fragile environment from being further destroyed by the avalanche of partisan political activities leading to the May 2022 elections.

Among their recommendations were: the declaration of a zero waste policy; regulation of campaign motorcades; incorporation of environmental awareness in the Comelec’s public information drive; mandatory use of recyclable materials by political parties and candidates; and compulsory conduct of post-election cleanup.

But it seems their call for “clean and green elections” in the literal sense has fallen on deaf ears. Many candidates could not even wait for the official campaign season to start this month. In fact, tarpaulin banners and other election paraphernalia have sprouted all over the land since October—along with noise pollution from loudspeakers promoting those who filed their candidacies.

Except for former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who is aiming for a Senate comeback, no other major candidate has bothered to shift to an eco-friendly campaign. At a recent media interview, he disclosed that his team avoids the printing and distribution of posters that would just end up in the garbage pile after May 9.

Cayetano shifted his campaign to the digital media using such platforms as Twitter and Facebook to woo voters. He encouraged fellow candidates to join him in this clean style of campaigning as well as to plant more trees or turn to urban farming to help preserve the environment. 

At the same time, he is urging his supporters to stop the wasteful practice of producing printed materials and instead use social media to campaign for him. This advocacy may turn the tide in favor of eco-friendly election practices.

Considering that there are more than 45,000 candidates who are contesting some 18,000 elective government positions in May, the volume of campaign stuff that will end up in garbage dumps is seen to be massive.

Yet with 63 percent of Filipinos having access to the Internet, it is actually possible to conduct a successful virtual electoral campaign this year. And besides, an unexpected benefit of this pandemic is the acceleration of digitalization in all aspects of our daily life.

Now that we’re deep into the digital age, it’s about time candidates discontinue their reckless acts of leaving tons of campaign trash that contribute to the environmental degradation of the only planet we have.

Joseph Gamboa is the chairman of the Finex Media Affairs Committee and director of Noble Asia Industrial Corp. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of these institutions and the BusinessMirror. #FinexPhils

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