Comelec urged to look into dismantling of tarps in private properties

February 16, 2022 - 7:04 PM
In this Feb. 16, 2022 photo, the Commission on Elections led the regionwide Operation Baklas in the National Capital Region (NCR) to tear down and remove unlawful election materials. (Comelec/Released)

Supporters of a presidential candidate are calling on the Commission on Elections to spare campaign materials posted in private properties.

On Wednesday, several news outlets reported the dismantling of posters and tarpaulins along EDSA, other areas Metro Manila and in some provinces.

This was part of Comelec’s Oplan Baklas, an operation wherein they remove illegal campaign materials of candidates for the coming May polls.

The operations started on February 8 or the first day of the campaign period for candidates running for national positions.

However, supporters of the tandem of presidential bet Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate Sen. Kiko Pangilinan reported that tarpaulins inside private properties were also removed.

“Plenty volunteers from HQs of the Leni-Kiko team are reporting of removal of posters that are compliant with the law,” one online user tweeted.

One volunteer shared a video on Twitter showing some personnel taking down posters inside a private-owned site in Isabela.

“Binaklas pati tarps sa loob? This is happening in Santiago City Isabela,” the user said.

Others called the attention of the poll body and reminded them of the election rules stating that residences and other private spaces should be off-limits.

“Private property should be off-limits to @comelec. Private property owners should be able to put up any candidate’s tarps on their walls, gates, trees without sanction,” one Twitter user said.

“Private property, tarps paid for by the volunteers. Galing galing talaga ng @COMELEC ano?” another Twitter user wrote.

A Twiter user pointed out that Comelec should be more worried about the campaign activities using state-funded or government vehicles.

“The greater harm lies in the use of govt vehicles for campaign sorties rather than individual citizens putting up tarps/posters inside their private property. I hope the Comelec prioritizes those over citizens exercising their right to political speech,” one user tweeted.

Rules and jurisprudence

Some online users brought up the Supreme Court ruling in the case between Diocese of Bacolod vs. COMELEC in 2015.

“Bakit hindi alam ng @COMELEC @jabjimenez na you, much less your regional officers, have no power to order ANYONE to remove tarpaulins posted in private property? Paki-basa nga ang Diocese of Bacolod v. COMELEC. Paulit-ulit nalang ah. Basic jurisprudence yan ah,” one Twitter user said.

In 2015, the High Court ruled in favor of the Diocese of Bacolod concerning the controversial “Team Buhay/Team Patay” tarpaulins put up at the Bacolod cathedral in 2013.

Comelec dismantled these materials on the basis that they violated the size regulations for printed campaign propaganda.

The SC upheld the legality of these tarpaulins, citing the freedom of speech of private citizens.

“COMELEC does not have the authority to regulate the enjoyment of the preferred right to freedom of expression exercised by a non-candidate in this case,” part of the ruling reads.

Moreover, under Comelec’s Resolution 10730 for the rules of the Fair Elections Act, posters and tarpaulins are allowed to be posted in the following places:

  • Authorized common poster areas in public spaces
  • Private properties with consent of the owners

READ: What’s allowed and not: Comelec spox reminds voters, candidates of poll campaign rules 

Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez also pointed this out when asked about the tarpaulin removal inside private headquarters.

“Posters put up by private persons on private property are protected by the Constitutional right to freedom of speech,” Gutierrez was quoted as saying.

Election lawyer Emil Marañon III, meanwhile, reminded volunteers of that the Comelec may face election offense in case poll personnel insisted on removing posters and tarpaulins within their residences.

“Note that the illegal removal of poster by Comelec is not only an election offense under Section 83 of the Omnibus Election Code, but also constitutes an administrative offense cognizable by the Office of the Ombudsman,” Marañon said.