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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Lawyers and political campaign volunteers in Zamboanga City challenged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to show them a law that allows its agents to take down and seize election materials in private properties.
“The question is, where is the law that allows Comelec to remove and take materials from private properties? A law like that may only be passed by Congress. The answer is there is none,” lawyer Harradier Isnani told Rappler.
Isnani is one of the lawyers who wrote to Zamboanga elections officer Stephen Roy Cañete on Friday, February 11, questioning the seizure of political campaign tarpaulins and signboards for presidential bet Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan that were placed by residents within their properties.
The lawyers signed the demand letter along with 14 other supporters of the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem who complained about the Comelec’s Task Force Baklas in Zamboanga.
Isnani said the move to take down the election materials in private properties and seizing these was merely based on a Comelec resolution “and a wrong interpretation.”
The task force includes the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO).
The move to take down and confiscate the campaign materials is based on Section 20 of Comelec Resolution No. 10730 which allows campaign materials to be displayed in private properties provided they conform with the rules on sizes.
In a February 1 letter sent to groups supporting the candidacies of politicians in Zamboanga, Cañete cited the Comelec resolution that “allows the posting of lawful campaign materials in private properties provided that the posting has the consent of the owner.”
He said the campaign materials should not exceed 2 x 3 feet.
Cañete also said that “it is presumed that the candidates and parties caused the posting of campaign materials outside the common poster areas if they do not remove the same within three (3) days from the notice issued by the election officer.”
The Robredo-Pangilinan supporters, however, said the task force was overdoing it, and its actions in Zamboanga raised questions on the constitutionality of the Comelec’s actions.
Isnani said, “We believe that our constitutional right to property has been violated.”
He cited a Supreme Court ruling on the case of the Catholic Diocese of Bacolod against the Comelec, et. al, to assert that the commission has “no legal basis to regulate expressions made by private citizens.”
Isnani said the Comelec cannot encroach on private property based on a mere resolution, and without a law that authorizes such action.
“A Comelec resolution is not a law. It is just that. Of course, we respect Comelec. It is a constitutional body. But the Supreme Court is clear… in the absence of any law, Comelec cannot do this,” he said.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez earlier maintained that the commission has the authority to take down the posters even in private properties, and asserted that the SC merely ruled against its regulation of materials about advocacies, but not on political campaigning.
The Bacolod Diocese case stemmed from the move to take down a tarpaulin that listed pro-life and pro-choice candidates. The diocese filed a case that reached the SC which subsequently ruled in its favor.
Yen Delgado, a campaign volunteer worker, said they demanded that Comelec stop encroaching on private properties and return all the campaign materials the task force took down and seized.
“These were in our private properties. They infringed on our rights as private citizens,” Delgado said.
Another Robredo-Pangilinan campaign volunteer, Anton Mari Lim, said they resented that the Comelec seized the campaign materials because residents spent their own money for these.
Cañete said he has informed the legal department of the Comelec about the complaint of the Robredo-Pangilinan supporters and would wait for its opinion. – Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.