Supporters of Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Francis Pangilinan called out the Commission on Elections over its move to take down oversized campaign materials that they said were made by volunteers and posted within private property.
The poll body's personnel and members of the Philippine National Police have been doing rounds as part of "Oplan Baklas", meant to ensure that the guidelines on posting campaign materials are being followed.
Comelec and #AnyareCOMELEC were trending on Thursday, with a combined 50,000 posts as netizens and lawyers cited court rulings to argue against the poll body's actions.
What are the guidelines in posting campaign materials?
Under Comelec Resolution 10730, which sets the guidelines for campaigning in the 2022 elections, the following are considered lawful election propaganda:
- Pamphlets, leaflets, cards, decals, stickers or other written or printed materials the size of which does not exceed eight and one-half inches in width and 14 inches in length;
- Handwritten or printed letters urging voters to vote for or against any particular political party or candidate for public office; and
- Cloth, paper or cardboard posters, whether framed or posted, with an area not exceeding 2 feet by 3 feet, except that, at the site and on the occasion of a public meeting or rally, or in announcing the holding of said meeting or rally, streamers not exceeding 3 feet by 8 feet in size.
These campaign materials may be posted in common poster areas and in private property, as long as it's with the owner's consent and the rules on posting and sizes of the materials are followed.
Why is there backlash over Oplan Baklas?
Supporters of Robredo and Pangilinan claimed that police and Comelec personnel took down supposedly unlawful campaign posters in private property without the consent of the owner.
According to senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, a veteran human rights lawyer, the Comelec and the PNP have no authority to remove campaign posters or tarpaulins, regardless of its size, if they are made by volunteers or posted within private property and especially without prior notice and hearing.
The same authorities also cannot enter a private property without a search warrant from a judge.
The University of the Philippines College of Law also said the country's laws "don't allow the Comelec to summarily (without notice and hearing) intrude, enter and worse, dismantle private property."
"Political speech is a preferred right, and political speech during an election stands on a higher level. The right to participate in electoral processes is not just the right to vote, but also the right to urge others to vote for a particular candidate," it added.
Why is the SC decision on Diocese of Bacolod vs. Comelec cited?
In showing that the Comelec's power to regulate campaign materials also has limits, UP Law cited the Supreme Court ruling on the case of Diocese of Bacolod against the poll body.
During the 2013 election season, the diocese posted within its private compound housing the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod a huge tarpaulin containing a list of candidates that were either "Team Patay" or "Team Buhay", indicating their positions on the controversial Reproductive Health bill.
The Comelec said the tarpaulin violatwed the guidelines on posting campaign materials and asked that it be taken down. The diocese resisted and asked the Supreme Court to stop the poll body from ordering the removal of the tarpaulin.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the diocese, saying that regulating expressions of non-candidates that are "principally advocacies of a social issue" is "unconstitutional". It also noted that while the statements in the tarpaulin were not agreeable to some people, "it is still protected speech."
What does the Comelec say?
Consistent with its rules, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said that campaign materials that do not follow the prescribed sizes are not allowed, even if these are posted within private property.
"If you post campaign materials on your personal property, you're still going to have to abide by the size requirements," he said in an earlier press conference.
Jimenez also said that while expressions of private individuals are not covered by Comelec's rules, election paraphernalia that declares an endorsement of a candidate can be regulated, citing the same ruling on Diocese of Bacolod vs. Comelec.
"What is protected is when you're speaking of advocacies of a social issue, which is what the 'Team Buhay, Team Patay' poster actually was. It wasn't a declarative statement or an endorsement of a candidate, it was an expression of the church's point of view at that particular point," he said.
"But as the Supreme Court said, regulation of election paraphernalia is still constitutionally valid if it refers to paraphernalia that is declarative in nature only, yung nagsasabi ng vote for ganito," he added.
Jimenez urged those who are complaining about Oplan Baklas to file a complaint.
"We are taking steps to make sure that our laws are complied with and we're gonna continue doing that. If anyone feels that they have an action against the Comelec, they should pursue that," he said on Wednesday.
Diokno advised those whose private property were trespassed without a search warrant, permission or notice of hearing may file a civil case for damages, an administrative case or a criminal case against the police, Comelec personnel, or government official who committed or ordered the illegal entry.