SC junks Comelec limits on airtime of political ads

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The Comelec wanted to revert to the original rule of 120 minutes for all stations instead of 120 minutes per station, but the High Court says it was arbitrary

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It was arbitrary and violated press freedom.

These were the main reasons cited by the Supreme Court (SC) in striking down a portion of a Commission on Election (Comelec) resolution that limited the airtime that candidates could buy from broadcast stations, and which required the poll body’s permission before candidates could guest on TV and radio shows.

Candidates for national office can now again place 120 minutes of airtime per television station and 180 minutes per radio station during the campaign, instead of just 120 minutes for all TV stations and 180 for all radio stations.

The unanimous ruling of the court makes permanent the restraining order on Section 9 of Comelec Resolution No. 9615, as amended by Resolution No. 9631. The said section states that national candidates – those running for the senatorial and party-list races – may only run a total of 120 minutes TV advertising and 180 radio advertising in all networks.

In issuing that said resolution in 2013, the Comelec was only reverting to the original interpretation under the Fair Election Act of 2001, which limited political advertising to 120 minutes for all networks per candidate, and 180 minutes for all radio stations per candidate. That original rule was changed in 2004 to apply the airtime allowance per station.

The SC relied on the following reasons in nullifying and voiding Section 9(a) of the resolution:

  • the arbitrary manner by which Comelec changed the previous regulation from “per station” to “aggregate total”
  • the violation of freedom of expression, speech and of the press
  • the violation of the people’s right to suffrage
  • the absence of prior hearing before adoption.

The court, however, sustained the rest of the Comelec resolution that were questioned in separate petitions filed by GMA Network Incorporated, ABC Development Corporation, Manila Broadcasting Company Incorporated, the Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster ng Pilipinas, and ABS-CBN. 

The High Court said the resolution “did not impose an unreasonable burden on the broadcast industry and the provision of the right to reply is reasonable under the circumstances.”

“Wherefore, premises considered, the petitions are partially granted, Section 9(a) of Resolution No. 9615, as amended by Resolution No. 9631, is declared unconstitutional and therefore null and void,” the ruling said. “The constitutionality of the remaining provisions of Resolution No. 9615, as amended by Resolution No. 9631, is upheld and remains in full force and effect.”

Justices Arturo Brion and Marvic Leonen wrote separate concurrences. 

In a statement released on Tuesday, September 2, Comelec expressed disappointment over the SC decision, saying this will lead to a barrage of TV political advertisement come 2016.

“With this new decision, the Supreme Court effectively obliterated a statutory mechanism to level the playing field by setting a cap on the quantity of media exposure candidates can buy,” the poll body said.

Comelec, however, claims it will no longer pursue a motion for reconsideration, and that it “vows to impose stricter campaign finance regulations – particularly on expense monitoring and documentary requirements – for the upcoming 2016 elections.”

In January 2013, shortly before the official campaign period started, Comelec passed Resolution 9615, taking by suprise candidates who had been used to allocating campaign ads resources per station. Most candidates at the time had already bought airtime based on the 120 or 180 minutes per station rule.

A month later, the poll body issued Resolution 9631 to keep this advertisement cap.

In the 2001 elections, the limit applied to all stations. But in the 2004 elections, Comelec declared that the 120-minute limit applied to each TV network.

Barely a month before the May 2013 elections, the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order that stopped the implementation of these resolutions. Two days after, it clarified that it issued a temporary restraining order – not a status quo ante order – on the aggregate airtime limits set by the poll body. – with a report from Reynaldo Santos Jr/ 

Stacked TV image via Shutterstock

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