2022 Philippine Elections

Baguio Comelec starts Oplan Baklas

Sherwin de Vera
Baguio Comelec starts Oplan Baklas

TAKEDOWN A Comelec Baguio worker takes out campaign posters found outside the designated common areas, as well as those not of the required size and content, on February 19, the first day of Oplan Baklas in the city.

Neil Ongchangco/Baguio PIO

Election lawyer Emil Marañon calls the Baguio Comelec notice 'an example of free speech being compromised by an overzealous Election Officer who fails to educate himself of the basic rules'

VIGAN CITY, Philippines – Marivic Bugasto of Lower Brookside in Baguio City was surprised to discover that someone removed the posters of Vice President and presidential bet Leni Robredo on her gate on February 19.

That same day, ten groups led by the local Commission on Elections (Comelec) Baguio Office, and escorted by the Philippine National Police and Philippine Army, scoured the city from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. to take down posters that allegedly violate Comelec standards.

Bugasto said nobody informed them about removing the posters, which were within their property line.

“They did not knock or call out to people inside. No notice was also given. They just removed and left,” she said.

“The posters came from the Baguio HQ, so I am pretty sure legal-size, etc. If there was any violation, they should have given a notice first, and followed the procedures that we read or heard from the news,” she added.

Bugasto said she will consult the incident with Lawyers for Leni group in the city.

Oplan Baklas

Personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Public Works and Highways were part of the teams that went around the city, removing posters and other campaign materials.

Based on Comelec’s tally, the largest number of posters their teams took down were from the Manila Teachers Party-list (91 pieces) and senatorial aspirant Raffy Tulfo (78 pieces).

Baguio Comelec Officer Reyman Solbita said the seized campaign posters were mostly oversized and were outside the assigned posting areas. Some, he added, also failed to include the full name and address of those who paid for the posters and were missing the sentence: “This is a recyclable material.”

Election lawyer Emil Marañon says the Baguio Comelec office notice is flawed.

The election officer said they would not take down campaign posters if these were inside private properties, but would notify the owner about the violation.

Comelec teams only remove oversized posters on private properties after confirming from the owners that they were not the ones who hung the materials, he added.

Compromising free speech

A copy of the notice signed by Solbita made rounds on social media the same day. The document cited three violations under Comelec Resolution No. 10730 – as to the size, the content, and the location of the materials.

The notice caught the attention of election lawyer Emil Marañon.

“With all due respect, this is an example of free speech being compromised by an overzealous Election Officer who fails to educate himself of the basic rules,” he tweeted.

He raised legal issues on his Twitter thread.

According to him, the law mandates the “paid for/by” text only on official campaign materials made by the candidate.

“We must not forget that the purpose of this legal requirement is for campaign finance monitoring. It is not a random provision required for no reason,” he said.

“To say that a poster was printed for “X” by “Y” presupposes a case of a third party donating to a candidate. Hence, when no such donation was agreed upon (as in the case of independent efforts by private citizens), there is no such requirement to put that “paid for/by” clause,” he further explained.

The lawyer also pointed out that the cited Comelec issuance contained no provision requiring the text to identify the material as “recyclable or environment friendly.” He also noted that the resolution does not require the “name/address of the printing press/publisher/printer.”

“As regards the location, in addition to the common poster area, a poster can be posted “in private places with the consent of the owner thereof…” under RA. No. 9006. So there is no legal basis to remove a poster on the ground that it was not posted in a common poster area,” Marañon said.

A team member of Operation Baklas in Baguio City takes down posters. Neil Ongchangco/Baguio PIO

Oplan Baklas has received public backlash after several reports of Comelec personnel and police removing campaign materials of Robredo in private properties.

The most recent of these incidents is the use of white paint to cover a Leni-Kiko mural on private property in Echague, Isabela, by Comelec personnel. However, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez during a press conference on February 8, said rules on posters do not include murals. – Rappler.com

Sherwin De Vera is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.