Baguio City

Mother, son fight to protect free speech during elections

Sherwin de Vera
Mother, son fight to protect free speech during elections

BONDING. Lawyer Maarin Makalintal-Cabato and son Paolo during a break in one of their volunteer campaign activities.

Maarin_Maggs Makalintal-Cabato

The high school student said he was disheartened, seeing the additional bureaucratic process imposed on volunteers.

BAGUIO CITY — For the next 30 days, 17-year-old Paolo Cabato does not have to worry about securing a permit from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to do volunteer work, like prepare and serve lugaw (porridge) or hand out  campaign materials of Vice President and presidential candidate Leni Robredo.

The Grade 11 student from the Philippine Science High School Cordillera campus is among the eight petitioners asking the court to nullify Comelec Resolution No. 10732,.

The resolution orders volunteers to seek permission for any campaign activity under the COVID-19 pandemic’s “new normal”. 

On February 28, a Baguio court issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the resolution. On March 2, during a hearing for an extension of the TRO, Comelec-CAR agreed to a status quo as it asked Baguio Regional Trial Court, Branch 5, Presiding judge Maria Ligaya Itliong-Rivera to reset the hearing.

The judge extended the 72-hour Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and set the hearing for April 4. 

Paolo said he learned in February about the resolution from his mother, lawyer Maarin C.S. Makalintal-Cabato, a member of the petitioners’ legal team.

The youth said he was disheartened, seeing the additional bureaucratic process imposed on volunteers.

Like other petitioners, Paolo believes the guidelines, particularly the provision requiring them to secure a permit for their campaign activities, trample on freedom of expression and assembly. 

Right to free speech

When his mom told him of the petition and asked if he would like to join “to show that the volunteers come from all walks of life, even young people who do not vote yet,” Paolo did not think twice. 

“I joined this petition because the provisions on the COMELEC resolution make it harder for me and other volunteers to assemble and exercise our rights to free speech,” he said in his judicial affidavit. 

He firmly believes that rights guaranteed by the Constitution, like the freedom of speech and assembly, “should not be subject to a ‘permit’.” 

“My right to speak out in support of a candidate is guaranteed by the Constitution and should not be subject to a ‘permit,’ as if I need permission to speak my mind,” the 17-year-old petitioner said 

“Also, I have the right to attend a gathering. This should not be stopped by anyone, especially by a government office made to facilitate the democratic process of elections,” he added. 

Paolo said he may not be familiar with the legal terms in the petition, “but I do know that freedom of expression must be protected.” 

Overreach

In an interview on February 28, lawyer Makalintal-Cabato said the poll body “expanded its rule-making powers” when it required volunteers to apply for a permit for their events. 

“The Omnibus Election Code states that permits for campaign activities are applied for by candidates and political parties, not by volunteers. By promulgating this resolution, they expanded their own governing law,” the lawyer explained. 

She said they have a permit from the local government for their activities, “but the requirement to get a Comelec Permit is an overreach.” – Rappler.com

Sherwin De Vera is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.