Why cops didn't arrest illegal campaigners on election day

MANILA, Philippines – Campaigning is prohibited on election day.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) had made that clear as soon as polls opened for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections on Monday, May 14. Months before that, the poll body had made public a list of all the bans in place during certain phases of the election period – campaigning should end a day before election day. 

"Illegal po iyan. [That is] electioneering, bawal mamigay ng campaign materials on election day (giving campaign materials are not allowed on election day)," Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in a morning briefing on Monday.

This warning was repeated by Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon in an afternoon briefing the same day, saying that candidates themselves were liable for their published materials.

By the end of the day, Comelec officers did not need to look far to see that the reminders were left unheeded.

The entrances of voting precincts were littered with campaign leaflets and sample ballots. (READ: Payatas kids see treasure in the trash of barangay, SK elections)

Yet, just a few feet away, or sometimes even at the entrances, stood policemen. In Barangay Payatas in Quezon City, for one, cops just ignored candidates' supporters who handed out campaign materials.

Were the cops remiss of their duties?

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Oscar Albayalde had 3 explanations on Tuesday, May 15, why electioneering escaped local law enforcers who were deployed for election duties.

1. Cops do not know campaigning is banned

According to Albayalde, some cops did not know that giving out campaign materials was already banned Saturday before election day.

“The cops, some of them do not know that it is prohibited,” Albayalde said in Filipino

He surmised that the cops, especially newbies who are usually the ones doing election monitoring duties, were simply not briefed about the election rules.

Barangay station commanders and the municipal or city police chiefs should have given them a briefing on election protocols. 

 

2. Illegal campaigners use children

The top cop cited his experience as Pampanga police chief during the last barangay elections in 2013. He said supporters exploited kids and ordered them to hand out the materials. They used the same strategy this year.

“Usually they use children to distribute materials, so all we can do is confiscate the materials” instead of arresting children, Albayalde lamented.

Cops can bring lawbreaking children to the social welfare department. In practice, they usually just scold children so they would stop. In the end, cops do not apprehend anybody.

Taking children campaigners into custody is also seen as an ineffective deterrent to the adults who exploit them politically in the first place.

 

3. Cops can’t do it alone

As with other criminal offenses, the most effective way to bring election day campaigning is to prevent its top source: the barangay candidates themselves.

The bets, Albayalde said, can only be effectively discouraged with the help of the Comelec and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

“The [answer] there really is the Comelec or the DILG. They should be the ones to punish the candidates who keep on distributing election materials, which is a violation of the Election Code,” Albayalde said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Albayalde said the responsibility to apprehend illegal campaigners should be shared with Comelec, which should leave instructions to electoral board members per polling precinct.

“The Comelec should report to us so we confiscate…. I think the Comelec officers inside [the precinct] should inform the cops that it is prohibited,” Albayalde said. – with a report from Michael Bueza/Rappler.com

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.

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