MANILA, Philippines – Netizens voiced fears that holding clean and fair elections this coming May 9 may be in jeopardy after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) implemented ‘Oplan Baklas’ – an initiative to take down alleged unlawful campaign materials.
Netizens raised a howl on what they perceived as the poll body’s arbitrary dismantling of posters and murals in various parts of the country.
The backlash from ‘Oplan Baklas’ made the hashtag #AnyareComelec top Twitter trends Thursday, February 17.
During the operation, reports surfaced that Comelec personnel took down posters inside private property, most of which were in support of presidential bet and Vice President Leni Robredo.
This included campaign paraphernalia of Robredo and her running mate, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, that were displayed at their media center along EDSA in Quezon City.
Republic Act (RA) No. 9006 or the Fair Election Act details what counts as lawful election propaganda. This includes posters that do not exceed the maximum size of 2 feet by 3 feet, unless it is posted at the site of a rally, where its size can be up to 3 feet by 8 feet.
Comelec also released Comelec Resolution No. 10730, the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 9066 for the 2022 elections, which states that individual posters even on private property “must comply with the [2 feet by 3 feet] requirements for posters.”
However, netizens said that the arbitrary removal of these election materials violated voters’ freedom of speech and expression.
Even now-retired commissioner Rowena Guanzon sounded off on the removals, urging the Comelec to review Resolution No. 10730. In a series of tweets, she said a campaign billboard that shows her support for a party-list does not violate rules because it is on private property.
She also cited a ruling by the Supreme Court on the case filed by the Diocese of Bacolod against the Comelec where the High Court ruled that the poll body had “no legal basis” to regulate expressions made by private citizens.
“To illustrate the practical impact of this new interpretation, non-candidates can now put up campaign propaganda as big as the billboards along Guadalupe Bridge or EDSA and contract unlimited TV, radio, and print ads, free from any form of regulation,” election lawyer Emil Marañon said in a Rappler opinion piece.
Colmenares: It’s electoral tokhang
Senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares even went as far to say in a series of tweets on Friday, February 18, that the Comelec’s removal of campaign materials is the “electoral equivalent of Oplan Tokhang,”
He urged the poll body to not only “tone down” but also “aim its gun on candidates and parties blatantly violating our election laws.”
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said that those who have a problem with Oplan Baklas should file a complaint against the poll body.
However, Karapatan’s public information officer Philip Jamilla and Twitter user @SopMSL slammed Jimenez’s response as “he could use his platform to at least clarify that [Comelec does] not have the power to enter private properties.”
Beyond the legal implications of the removals, netizens said that the move further cast doubt on Comelec as an impartial body for the 2022 elections. Some even went as far as calling the poll body officials “biased” for the dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to win this year’s polls.
The takedown incidentally came after the Comelec’s first division junked the disqualification case against Marcos Jr.’s presidential bid, where the ruling said, “the failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it.”
The disqualification case had been controversial as Guanzon accused Commissioner Aimee Ferolino of deliberately delaying the release of the ruling until her mandatory retirement. Before this, the retired commissioner revealed her vote to disqualify Marcos Jr.
Ferolino maintained that the credibility of the poll body remained intact, and that her controversy with Guanzon was a “minor issue.”
Here’s how other netizens reacted to the removal of campaign materials:#AnyareComelec – Curated tweets by rapplerdotcom