There are silver linings and still many more challenges in this business of getting rid of illegal billboards and political campaign posters. But one thing is certain from my most recent drive this Holy Week around Laguna de Bay. Things are changing.
Just driving the Southern Expressway headed for Laguna, there are bright spots. Literally. It seems around the entrance to the toll gates, there stands just the skeletal remains of billboards. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) must have deemed the billboards to be dangerous being less than eight meters from the highway and therefore a violation of Presidential Administration Orders 160 and 160-A of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
You could see the sky now past the skeletal remains. Further south, Typhoon Milenyo had taken down numerous billboards last year and there are some billboards without any customers. Corporations must be realizing that it is no longer good business to use them especially after a lawsuit was filed recently against a falling billboard that killed a passerby.
I noticed billboards of airline, gasoline, and realty companies. They pretty much shoot themselves in the foot. Americans including Filipino Americans and Europeans when polled, state they hate billboards. Who in their right mind would therefore spend a thousand dollars to get to the Philippines and take a tour of Southern Philippines to be accosted by billboards? For less than that amount, Fil-Ams would rather go to Hawaii where billboards are banned and tourism is up and away. These companies just lost their customers.
Ask any smart realtor and they’ll admit that billboards bring down real estate prices. See any obnoxious billboards in ritzy places like Fort Bonifacio? So, how is this country going to be able to sell its real estate in the south when it is cluttered with ugly billboards? Yet, there’s Brittany and Georgia Club and other god-awful names for subdivisions accosting the once potential but now thoroughly disgusted Fil-Am investor?
But as I was exiting the expressway, the good news overall is less billboards, lots of vacant billboards, a more conscious populace about their being a public menace, a government that continues to uphold public safety, and in a few months, another round of angry Milenyos.
The very last exit is for Calamba and as you go round and out of the freeway, you begin to notice the garbage thrown on the side of the road. Then you notice the trees, the posts, the sidings of GI sheets, the bus stop stations, the fluttering sky. The politicians of this country has again broken the law and decided to smear the whole scene, the whole scene with their campaign excrement.
Driving pass thousands of posters nailed to trees, pasted on walls, running the length of the city, I wondered what national hero Jose Rizal would think having given his life for this country only to spawn a bunch of politicos who’ve made his own hometown butt-ugly. I’m sure Rizal’s lyrical paean to his country – poems, novels, essays - had much to do with happy childhood memories of rural Calamba. He once boasted after seeing Niagara Falls, that it still couldn’t compare with the beauty of his local Dampalit Falls. Rizal would quickly be a bomb-throwing anarchist seeing posters of actor-senator-wannabe Cesar Montano defiling the countryside. Ironically, Montano’s acting fame skyrocketed playing Jose Rizal in a movie. The guy today deludes himself as the hero incarnate and with his sexy undershirt appeal wants us to vote him into office. Dream on.
Los Banos, dense with narrow roads, was a nightmare to course through with the campaign posters, like locusts, inches away from the car. Even after leaving its borders and admiring, on both sides of the road, the emerald green rice fields and enchanting mountains, the nauseating sight of posters persisted. Manny Villar, the richest of all senatorial candidates spared not a single tree and electric post. Environmental poseur Loren Legarda who once had an ode to trees (‘I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE, A POEM AS LOVELY AS A TREE…’) erected on the national highway had her cynical smirk nailed to every tree she could molest.
So it went from one town to the next, these posters inflicting their pain on trees, sap flowing out of them when nailed, like blood. It may be a sickening sight for travelers fleeing the city and seeking solace in the country. But for the rural folk, it’s even a matter of life and death. You ask anyone why they allow these posters to hang and they’ll tell you they were put up by the local thugs and druggies who’d kill anyone taking them down.
Aside from thugs the candidates hire the local idiots to splotch everywhere not sparing destroyed buildings, garbage dumps, and the lower sections of provincial markers where dogs ordinarily pee on. The candidates don’t have the slightest marketing clue that the surroundings affect the message. Who wants to vote for a pee-stained candidate?
A poster of Recto, a senatorial incumbent has his silly word play KORecto (like in correct-o) pounded on trees that Villar missed. Correct? No. He might win thanks to his actress wife but for aesthetics, he’s just another loser.
Senator Edgardo Angara who styles himself as a supporter of arts and culture reveals his utter disdain for it. Just meters away from an 18th century church, his goons have peppered his face on a waiting station, as if to say screw heritage. He just wants to win at all cost.
I grip my steering wheel harder trying to contain my uttermost contempt for these charlatans of law and order. They know posting campaign material other than the proper designated places is a violation of Section 9 of the Fair Elections Act. The penalties include disqualification from public office, fines, jail for up to six years, and will be deprived of the right to vote under Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code.
The telling part of this wholesale scoffing of the law is that all candidates, administration, opposition, party list, all of them are guilty of the violation. They have not the slightest respect for the law yet are running for lawmaker positions. Their flapping posters taunt us competing with one another on being the most repellent as they savage this once idyllic province.
Our country though never fails to raise my spirits and inspire me. In the midst of the campaign garbage, one drives under the arch of the town of Pila and the magic begins. Our car glides through age old Acacia trees proudly showing off its muscular branches and immense shade. Electric posts are just posts. Railing and walls show scars of pasted posters ripped off. We are in a most enchanting town with an intact plaza surrounded by veritable mansions, a 1929 municipal plaza on one end and a stodgy old church on the other. Its plaza received a National Historical site status in 2000 and there’s an active Pila Historical Society that has fought and won every commercial encroachment on its Plaza. Last year, they threw out Greenwich for putting up a food stall. The year previous, they got Globe’s banners removed immediately.
There is not one single poster to be found in this fairly large town. Not a one. If you want to know how the town did it, ask Cora Relova, the historical society’s founder and town guardian. Every day, she pays a team of young boys to go with ladders and take down posters set up in the middle of the night (the crooks know its illegal so they do it stealthily). She has braved threats telling her boys to take down all posters to show no favorites. She reads the laws to those who menace her and they shut up. She’s spent a thousand pesos of her own money paying the boys, but she gleams with pride at how resplendent her town remains.
My traveling party totally agrees. Pila beguiles as our eyes revel in its well preserved architecture, its restful plaza dotted with windblown trees, and its impressive church.
Unfortunately, the town’s steadfastness and pride in keeping itself beautiful did not rub off on its neighbors. As we left Pila, we were back again seeing the hell bent destructive behavior of politicians. Pagsanjan, and old tourist haunt with its popular waterfalls and the exciting ride over the rapids has been inundated with political posters. The town has an old world charm with period homes lining the main street, some converted into delightful cafes and inns. But the politicians don’t care one bit for the town’s tourist draw and instead render the place deplorable.
A sidetrip to Caliraya, a hill-top lake with views reminiscent of Bali is marred by the relentless presence of posters. Tessie Aquino-Oreta, with her bad hair day look and supposedly remorseful of her past inanities, does not appear to be so as her mug shots are nailed on trees fronting a Japanese garden.
On the road to Paete, the car hugs the mountain side with the most scenic views of the lake and distant mountains. But the whole aesthetic gestalt just can’t happen what with senate wannabe Prospero Pichay’s sneer on every other boulder and post. Hammered on trees nearby are the offensive looks of Mike Defensor. He tries to emote integrity but fails since the former Environmental Secretary should have known the laws on posting.
As we climb the mountain headed for Binangonan, the zig zag road provides a more majestic sweep of the whole province. Savoring it is impossible; every tree pummeled bearing posters of senatorial candidate Vic Magsaysay. He’s related to outgoing Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and son of the revered late president. It’s pathetic that this candidate did not follow in the Senator’s foot steps of eschewing campaign posters. Vic instead has just muddied what was once a sterling name.
Chavit Singson, an administration favorite but not doing well in the polls manage to pepper his face as we approached Antipolo. Aging movie star Richard Gomez, his face heavily photoshopped, found a couple of road side stands to plaster. And Kiko Pangilinan, who once ran as Mr. Clean, just looked like your regular toothy traditional politician dirtying up the countryside. How quickly idealism fades on spineless do-gooders.
I mentally thought to myself that by June, when the brave Balikbayans come for summer with their children, these posters would still be here to their horror and quiet promise never to return again. This lovely circle of a lake side tour, less than a hundred kilometers from the city, boasting rice fields, quaint towns, waterfalls, and gracious churches have been absolutely ruined. A much need tourism industry has, once again, taken a back seat to the narcissistic, law-breaking depredations of today’s wannabe politicians.
We are back on EDSA the main city highway going home. I notice to my amusement a bunch of advertising banners have been sprayed with black ink, as if shot from paint guns. Billboards are no longer sacrosanct to these anti-consumer rebels. Maybe this anger might just spread to the political realm.
Pristine Pila Laguna is the memory I will keep and I urge one and all to visit this heritage town to be guided and delightfully fed by the indefatigable Cora Relova. Reach her at email@example.com and praise her efforts. When you meet her, be prepared to be inspired and become an activist in your own hometown too.
Just as I was preparing this blog, Cora calls me to say that Governor Ningning Lazaro, who is running again, has sent her people to apologize profusely for having hung banners in non-designated places of Pila. Cora would take the banners down just hours after they were placed and she collected a hefty pile. The Governor may have realized her wrong in Pila, but in the whole of Laguna, her posters are everywhere.
This blog and its photos are being sent to the COMELEC and the DPWH to prod them to disqualify the candidates who have violated the laws. It’s telling to note that if these government agencies actually did their job, they would have to disqualify ALL THE CANDIDATES. There would be no elections for they would all theoretically be in jail.
I urge everyone to dash off an e-mail to the various people and agencies .The Senators below are those whose posters I documented hung and pasted illegally. Shame them and make them know we don’t tolerate their illegal postings.
Tell COMELEC to do their job and start disqualifying. Tell DPWH to take down all illegal posters now.
Tessie Aquino Oreta firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Ralph G. Recto email@example.com
Senator Edgardo Angara http://www.edangara.com/guestbook/gbook.php?a=sign
Vic Magsaysay http://magsaysayforsenator.blogspot.com/2007/02/infrastructure-in-zambales.html
Mike Defensor http://www.mikedefensor.net/default/ask-tol
Senator Kiko Pangilinan http://www.kiko.ph/contact.html
Senator Manny Villar http://www.mannyvillar.com.ph/contact.html
Report illegal campaign billboards to:
Department of Public Works & Highways
Bonifacio Drive, Port Area
Office of the Chairman
Chairman Bayani F. Fernando
Tel. (632) 882-4151 to 77 loc 205; 882-1805; 882-0871; 882-0893
Commission on Elections
Postigo Street, Intramuros
Manila NCR 1002
+63 (2) 527 6111
Hon. Benjamin S.. Abalos, Sr.
Postigo Street, Intramuros
Voice:+63 (2) 527-5412
Fax:+63 (2) 527 8929