Rules for breaking
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2019 - 12:00am

Finally, a reprieve from the billboard pollution wherever we turn.

And finally, it looks like some of the most notorious polluters and unabashed premature campaigners are sensing a public backlash – and trying to backpedal.

Even if the official campaign period is still a few weeks away for local candidates, the start of the campaign for national posts is forcing local bets to also confine their materials to designated display spots.

This is one area where the Commission on Elections can be most effective in enforcing the rules. It is also relatively easy for the Comelec to monitor advertisements placed in mass media.

Social media is more complicated but not impossible to monitor. The Comelec has already announced that it will be monitoring even bloggers and influencers for political endorsements.

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The rules governing campaigning through social media, however, are still evolving.

And there’s the fundamental question regarding the regulation of campaign activities: can violators be penalized?

Yes they can, and yes, punishment awaits them. Comelec spokesman James Jimenez gave this assurance to “The Chiefs” when we interviewed him this week on Cignal TV’s One News channel.

But what’s the extent of the punishment, and when can it be enforced?

Jimenez admitted that the penalties do not include barring the violator from pursuing his electoral bid, since punishment cannot be imposed until guilt is established with finality. Depending on the gravity of the offense, the violator can then be permanently barred from holding public office.

But that final judgment, Jimenez conceded, could take years to be handed down, during which the violator might have won and completed three local terms, or retired from politics, or retired from this existence for good.

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Candidates study the rules on campaigning, so they are aware of the do’s and don’ts. So they are also aware of the gray areas, such as the details on the use of government resources by elective officials for campaigning and other partisan purposes. The Comelec has stressed that this is allowed for incumbent political officials including the president of the republic.

Some of these campaign rules can end up like the prohibition on VIP wang-wang, imposed by Noynoy Aquino at the start of his term and reiterated by President Duterte. The Philippine National Police must be clueless about the prohibition, since its motorcycle cops use their wang-wang and blinkers to part the traffic for the private cars of VIPs.

Yesterday, for example, two motorcycle cops of the PNP NCR (painted on the bikes) continuously used their wang-wang  as they escorted a white Hi-Ace van (license plate WA 6004) along the northbound lane of Macapagal Boulevard at past 3 p.m. The motorcycle cops stopped traffic as the VIP turned left toward the MOA bay area. The van, naturally, was heavily tinted to ensure that no one could identify the ugly kapalmuks VIP inside.

Our taxes go to such cops?

Since there are no penalties, however, I can predict the full return of VIP wang-wang in the near future. The wang-wang mentality – that certain individuals are more blessed by the heavens than the suffering hoi polloi stuck in horrid traffic – never went away; it just went into hibernation.

If Duterte is sincere in his disdain for wang-wang, he should make his sentiment clear to his cops. And the PNP should follow, since it’s the organization, not some faceless VIP passenger hiding in a tinted car, which reaps public opprobrium for the wang-wang.

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At least there are no dark tints to conceal the identities of the politicians who circumvent rules on fair campaigning. A number of them are surely looking forward to enjoying the wang-wang privilege if they win, especially in the traffic-choked streets of Metro Manila.

The Comelec is not entirely toothless in regulating campaign activities. But it can be most effective with citizen support. Technology has made it easier for citizens to report campaign violations.

Civil society groups such as Namfrel, Lente (Legal Network for Truthful Elections) and Kontra Daya also have ongoing efforts to promote voter education and prevent unfair or illegal campaigning and election fraud.

Election rules can still be ignored, circumvented or brazenly violated, but compliance can be enforced in certain areas.

At least the ugly billboards have been taken down.

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Online buyer beware: There’s not much that can be done in connection with many violations of election laws. But authorities should not be as toothless in regulating online retailers.

Someone I know, for example, ordered a vacuum food sealer from ShopEasy on Feb. 1. ShopEasy’s response was swift, by text and email, with product delivery tracking. When the package was delivered via XPOST Shopee at his office in Taguig before noon on Feb. 8, he was busy at work and did not bother opening it for inspection, trusting the five-star rating of the online shopping site. He paid the P2,499, as advertised alongside the product photo.

As it turns out, these star ratings can be as unreliable as commissioned election surveys. When he finally opened the package after lunch, it contained an impulse sealer, which is entirely different from the item he had ordered.

Wanting to get what he ordered, he has since tried several times to communicate with ShopEasy by FB, email, and text to the mobile number indicated in the delivery document, but has received no response.

So buyer beware.

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