MANILA, Philippines – Supporters of presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, were up in arms after personnel of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) painted over their murals in a private property in Echague town in Isabela province.
In photos and videos shared by the Isabela Para Kay Leni-Kiko Facebook page on Thursday, February 17, Comelec personnel used white paint to cover the pink mural that members of the Echague for Leni-Kiko volunteer group had made to help promote the opposition tandem in their town.
The poll body agents were escorted by armed police officers.
The painting depicted the faces of the candidates, a pink rose symbolizing Robredo’s campaign, and her tagline, “Gobyernong Tapat, Angat Buhay Lahat,” which in English means that under an honest government, everyone’s lives would be better.
The paint over operation was part of Comelec’s “Oplan Baklas,” which has been drawing flak after its agents in several areas nationwide, entered private properties and removed posters of the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem without a warrant or even a prior heads up.
Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez slammed the mural takedown, saying Comelec has gone “beyond what they are legally empowered to do.”
He and veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal earlier said Comelec’s recent moves to remove posters and tarps of the Leni-Kiko tandem were “unconstitutional” and would have a “chilling effect” even on the supporters of other candidates. They argued the Comelec’s rule on lawful election propaganda does not cover posters put up by private citizens within their properties.
The camps of Robredo and Pangilinan are now mulling possible cases to be filed against Comelec.
“Again, this is clearly beyond the scope of the law and a violation of the rule laid down by the SC in Diocese of Bacolod and other cases. That the Comelec actually went to the extent of painting over a mural on a privately owned wall goes well beyond what they are legally empowered to do,” Gutierrez told Rappler.
“This has crossed the line from abusive enforcement to outright harassment,” he added.
As seen in the video posted on Facebook, the female owner of the private compound in Echague can be heard calmly appealing to a male Comelec officer not to remove the pink mural since it was painted on a wall within her property. The wall can be found along the sidewalk, however, so it was accessible to the public.
The Comelec officer refused to listen, insisting on painting over the mural as they were not allegedly violating any rules.
“Magagalaw ho namin kasi abot namin eh. Wala naman kaming pinapasok na compound,” said the Comelec officer.
(We can handle this because we can reach it. We’re not entering any compoound.)
But this was contrary to what the poll body’s own spokesperson James Jimenez told reporters in a press conference on February 8. He said Comelec’s controversial rules on campaign posters do not govern murals.
“They are not regulated because a lot of those were done before the official campaign period, right? You’re basically talking about every barangay that painted the name of the officials,” said Jimenez.
Nigel Sadan, youth coordinator for Robredo’s volunteer group in Echague, told Rappler they just decided to paint over the erased mural again – with plain pink paint this time.
They then held a candle-lighting ceremony at 6 pm in front of the mural in a bid to show they were undeterred by Comelec’s actions.
This is not an isolated incident against the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem and their supporters, particularly in Isabela province.
On Wednesday, February 16, Robredo campaign volunteers in Santiago City also shared videos showing police and fire department personnel removing posters of the opposition tandem at their headquarters, which is inside a private property.
Isabela is part of the so-called “Solid North” provinces, where votes are commanded by the family of Robredo’s bitter rival and current poll front runner Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Comelec divisions have so far junked several petitions seeking to block his candidacy.
Comelec personnel also took down campaign paraphernalia of the Robredo-Pangilinan team that were displayed at their media center along EDSA in Quezon City.
On February 11, lawyers and campaign volunteers for Robredo in Zamboanga City wrote a demand letter against the Comelec for taking down posters and tarpaulins in at least six properties “in one fell swoop” without giving them notice.
In the Comelec’s takedown of Leni-Kiko posters and tarpaulins in these three cities, their volunteers were not given a heads up that dismantling would already take place.
The poll body also removed the campaign materials of other candidates that allegedly violated the rules. – Rappler.com