MANILA, Philippines – The teams of presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, are mulling over the possible filing of cases against the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for its “unconstitutional” removal of tarpaulins and posters put up by their supporters in private properties.
On Thursday, February 17, Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez faced the media along with veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who said Comelec’s takedown of the Leni-Kiko posters violate not just the Constitution, but also the Fair Elections Act and several jurisprudence.
“It is very arbitrary and a clear case of abuse of power and discretion, and violation of one’s constitutional right to property. This is what the Comelec has done to those non-candidates who posted alleged oversized campaign materials on their own private properties,” said Macalintal.
“It was very arbitrary act of the Comelec because said persons were never given the chance to be heard, which violated their procedural right to due process when said campaign materials were removed without any hearing,” he added.
Gutierrez said the Robredo camp is now studying the filing of cases against Comelec so their controversial policy on campaign materials would be clarified.
“So mahalaga para sa amin na mag-issue ng ganitong paglilinaw kung ano ‘yung tingin naming tamang pagbasa nung batas. Manawagan sa Comelec na balikan nila itong polisiyang ito dahil malinaw itong paglabag sa ating Konstitutsyon at sa ating batas,” said Gutierrez.
(So it’s important for us to issue a clarification on what we think is the right reading of the law. We are calling on Comelec to review this policy because it clearly violates the Constitution and our laws.)
“At kung kinakailangan, pinag-aaralan sa kasalukuyan kung posibleng mag-file ng karapat-dapat na kaso para maging mas klaro ‘yung rule dito sa isyung ito,” he added.
(And if needed, we are now studying the possible filing of the appropriate cases so the rules on this issue would be clarified.)
In a separate statement, Pangilinan also appealed to Comelec to respect the rights of private citizens to show support for his tandem with Robredo, also called “TROPA.”
Otherwise, he might file a case against the poll body for trespassing and destroying private property.
“Kaya panawagan natin sa Comelec: Respetuhin ang private property ng mga volunteers ng TROPA. Kung hindi ay mapipilitan tayong magsampa ng kasong trespassing at destruction of private property sa sinumang magpumilit na labagin ang batas,” said Pangilinan.
(So our appeal to Comelec: Respect the private property of our TROPA volunteers. If not, we would be forced to file cases for trespassing and destruction of private property against anyone who would violate the law.)
Gutierrez also said the poll body dismantling these posters causes a “chilling effect” not just on the Robredo-Pangilinan supporters, but even the backers of other candidates.
“At pag nakita ng ibang tao ito, merong tinatawag nga natin sa batas [na] chilling effect. Madi-discourage ang ibang tao na magpatuloy ng kani-kanilang kampanya kung meron silang takot na baka pasukin yung kanilang bahay, pasukin yung kanilang private property at gawin yung ganung klaseng pagbabaklas na nakita natin,” he said.
(And when other people see this, there’s this term in law called chilling effect. It would discourage other people to continue campaigning out of fear that their homes, private properties would be trespassed and that kind of removal would be done there.)
Leni-Kiko supporters were up in arms these past days after Comelec personnel took down campaign paraphernalia of the team that were displayed at their media center along EDSA in Quezon City during the poll body’s “Oplan Baklas” operations.
Their campaign volunteers in Santiago City, Isabela province also shared videos showing police and fire department personnel removing posters of the opposition tandem at their headquarters, which is in 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.
Lawyers and campaign volunteers for Robredo in Zamboanga City also wrote a demand letter against the Comelec on February 11 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.
The Comelec removed a billboard of Marcos in Quezon City on Wednesday.
Presidential candidate and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno’s campaign manager Lito Banayo also said their signboard at their headquarters in Santiago City were also removed by the Comelec. The property is privately owned by Karen Abuan, Aksyon Demokratiko’s provincial coordinator in Isabela.
Laws, jurisprudence violated
Comelec Resolution No. 10730 sets rules on what is considered to be lawful election propaganda, citing specific measurements and areas for posting of campaign paraphernalia to be considered legal.
The resolution allows candidates’ lawful election materials to be displayed at their headquarters, but banners and streamers sized two feet by three feet or larger are prohibited.
But election lawyer Macalintal said these rules do not govern private citizens who gave their consent for campaign posters to be displayed on their private properties.
Some Robredo-Pangilinan supporters have even been spending their own money to print these posters and tarpaulins.
Macalintal said the provisions of Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Elections Act on what constitutes lawful election propaganda covers only candidates and political parties, not private citizens.
“Therefore, it is not within the power of the Comelec to include non-candidates to be under its regulatory power when the said candidates were not referred to in the said law. The Comelec cannot prescribe what the law does not provide,” said Macalintal.
If the poll body has found gaps in the law, Macalintal said they should ask Congress to make the amendments, not address the issue themselves.
Macalintal also cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2015 case of Timbol vs. Comelec, where the justices said the poll body’s motu proprio powers cannot be exercised without giving the affected party the chance to be heard.
In the Comelec’s takedown of Leni-Kiko posters and tarpaulins in Quezon City, Isabela City, and Zamboanga City, their volunteers were not given a heads up that dismantling would already take place.
Macalintal also mentioned the Adiong vs. Comelec, where the magistrates ruled that citizens’ right to free speech and expression cannot be curtailed because no public interest is threatened when campaign materials are posted in private properties.
Macalintal, a respected election lawyer, led Robredo’s legal team that won the election case filed against her by Marcos in the aftermath of the 2016 vice presidential contest. Macalintal ran but lost for senator under the Liberal Party-led Otso Diretso slate in the 2019 polls.
Several groups already raised red flags over the Comelec’s controversial removal of campaign posters. Former Comelec commissioners Luie de Guia and Rowena Guanzon also expressed concern that the poll body runs the risk of being accused of trespassing. – Rappler.com