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The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will modify its policy on the removal of oversized campaign paraphernalia on private property, after its “Oplan Baklas” activities drew huge backlash online.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, February 24, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said their field officials will have to secure a written consent first from the private property owner before taking down the paraphernalia.
The amendment – which has yet to be put in writing – came in the wake of allegations that the Comelec has been dismantling posters installed on private property without permission, a claim that the poll body has vehemently denied.
“The Comelec has always abided by the policy that we will not enter into private property unless there is consent from the property owner. We will take that step further by requiring that officer to produce a written consent form,” Jimenez said.
The private property owner has up to three days to accomplish the form. If they refuse to give consent, “a case is possible,” Jimenez noted, but “in the meantime, the poster stays up.”
Violators of campaign rules could possibly face an election offense, which is punishable by a range of penalties including at least one-year imprisonment, disqualification from public office, and deprivation of the right to suffrage.
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal previously wrote to the Comelec, asking it to suspend a part of its tarp removal operations until it amends Comelec Resolution No. 10730, which details the implementing rules and regulations of the Fair Election Act.
Macalintal was specifically contesting a line that says “the Comelec may, motu proprio, immediately order the removal, destruction and/or confiscation of any prohibited propaganda material, or those materials which contain statements or representations that are illegal.”
“This is being used by your election officials in removing alleged oversized campaign posters posted on private properties of non-candidates without notice and hearing,” Macalintal said in a February 22 letter. “Such action is so arbitrary and clear violation of one’s constitutional right to his property and due process.”
Asked whether Macalintal’s letter was taken into consideration during the Comelec en banc meeting on Wednesday, February 23, Jimenez said, “Input like that is always part of the discussion, even though we don’t refer to it specifically.”
The Comelec has insisted it has the right to go after oversized campaign paraphernalia on private premises, based on its interpretation of a 2015 landmark Supreme Court ruling.
The Diocese of Bacolod vs Comelec case sparked debate on whether its ruling meant non-candidates can now install huge campaign paraphernalia on private property without repercussions.
The Comelec, in its appreciation of election jurisprudence, has said the Supreme Court decision only allows oversized posters if it pushes for an advocacy of a social cause.
Some former Comelec officials like Rene Sarmiento and Rowena Guanzon disagreed with the poll body’s interpretation of the Diocese of Bacolod vs Comelec, while Macalintal insisted there is nothing in the Fair Election Act that allows the Comelec to regulate the speech of non-candidates. – Rappler.com