MANILA, February 11, 2004
 (STAR) By Cecille Suerte Felipe and Jose Aravilla - The night before the official campaign season kicked off, at least 253 election law violators were caught red-handed pasting campaign posters in restricted areas in different parts of Manila and Quezon City from Monday night until the wee hours of yesterday morning.

The posters and streamers confiscated were those of President Arroyo and her runningmate Sen. Noli de Castro, opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr. and his vice presidential bet Sen. Loren Legarda and several senatorial candidates.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) berated the "lawlessness" that marked the first day of the official campaign period.

"The first day (of the official campaign period) shows that our politicians are models of lawlessness, that we are in the land of the corrupt, reflective of the political system that we have," Comelec education and information division chief Ferdinand Rafanan said.

In Manila alone, 230 campaign workers were rounded up for pasting posters and hanging streamers in places not designated by the Comelec as "common poster areas," Western Police District (WPD) director Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong said.

"Common poster areas" are those usually in densely populated places designated by election officers.

Presidential campaign spokesman Michael Defensor partly blamed the Comelec for the violations. "Where is the designated common poster area?" he told reporters. He did concede that President Arroyo’s posters were likewise violated campaign rules.

This early, Rafanan conceded that they may not be able to prosecute people beyond those hired to paste or hang posters of candidates in public places.

The candidates, he said, could easily deny knowing the actions of their people on the ground.

Nonetheless, Rafanan said they would ask the candidates to explain why their campaign posters mushroomed all over Metro Manila despite a stern warning from the poll body that candidates may be disqualified if they violate campaign rules.

He said Comelec inspections will continue until the end of the campaign period on May 8.

The 90-day campaign period for national candidates began at midnight yesterday. The campaign for local posts will start on March 27.

Rafanan with Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos made the first haul of election law violators in Quezon City after they started to make a round of Metro Manila at the strike of midnight yesterday.

Accompanied by policemen, the Comelec officials arrested some 23 persons caught in the act of pasting posters of Mrs. Arroyo, De Castro, Poe, Legarda, administration senatorial candidate Dick Gordon, and party-list Sanlakas.

Militants had no qualms over the clearing operation but Sanlakas president Wilson Fortaleza challenged Abalos to prove that the first onslaught against violators of election laws was not just for show.

Upon hearing the news, Gordon immediately ordered his legal staff to "bail out" the three "volunteers" who were arrested for pasting his campaign posters.

Gordon was enraged but issued an apology for the actions of what he called his "overeager" volunteers. "Sorry about the posters. I assure you I would personally lead the removal of my posters. Dirtying the metropolis is not my style," said Gordon, who recently quit his post as tourism secretary to concentrate on his senatorial bid.

The 23 campaign workers arrested in Quezon City were caught along Aurora Boulevard and Katipunan Avenue. They are now detained at the Anonas police station and will be charged with violating Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Code.

Police identified those arrested as Jomari Aguha, 18, Bienvenido Alesna, 26, Nathaniel Alesna, 18, and Richard Reyes, 32, all of Escopa II, Proj. 4; Jose Cerezo, 38, Lorna Egat, 35, Belinda Canete, 30, Virgilio Tenorio, 30, Daryl Canonoy, 18, Marvin Cuneta, 21, Lucio Recafor, 61, Mercy Altar, 48, Marisol Caldamo, 28, and Ryan Estorera, 21, all of Galicia Ext., Bangkolase, Navotas; Danilo Joson, 49, of Caloocan City; Cecilia Taripe, 57, of Sitre Rd., Virgo Drive NBBS, Navotas; Richard Carreon, 18, of Brgy. Pinyahan; Ricky Villas, 27, of Antipolo City; and Elpidio Joven, 51, Ruben Madriano, 18, Jessie Alcantara, 34, Aren Cabilida, 18, and Jimmy Colla, 17, all of NAWASA Line, Brgy. Holy Spirit.

In the clearing operation in Manila, the arrests of election law violators were made on major thoroughfares including Abad Santos Avenue, España Street, Taft Avenue, Bumentritt, Tayuman, Avenida Rizal and Claro M. Recto Avenue.

Bulaong led his men in patrolling the city at about 1:30 a.m. resulting in the massive number of arrests. Seized from those arrested were the candidates’ posters, streamers, and pails of starch-based glue, said WPD spokesman Gerry Agunod. The violators said they were paid P300 to P500 each.

Agunod admitted they will have a difficult time running after violators of election laws but vowed that they will be relentless on their job. "We have anticipated that followers of candidates will begin posting and hanging campaign materials even outside the Comelec-designated areas," Bulaong said, adding that Manila Mayor Lito Atienza had reiterated that Manila "should be free of illegal posters and streamers which destroy the face of the city."

In a statement, Atienza warned the candidates anew against violating election laws.

"While we do not want to hamper the campaign of those running for public office, we are also not going to allow such acts of vandalism to diminish the gains of our development efforts over the past years," Atienza said. — With Katherine Adraneda, Nestor Etolle, Mayen Jaymalin, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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