Presidential bets slam Comelec’s removal of campaign posters in private properties

Presidential candidates said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should keep off private properties in its “Oplan Baklas” drive, saying it has no jurisdiction there.

According to Saleema Refran’s “24 Oras” report on Thursday, a video shared by the camp of Vice President Leni Robredo showed that her posters were taken down by the personnel of Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP) and Comelec at the Leni-Kiko volunteer center in Santiago, Isabela.

The authorities also took down the posters hanging inside the volunteer center.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said tarpaulins are “harmless” materials to be displayed in private properties. He added the Comelec should revisit its guidelines on the matter.

“Kung ‘yung private property ko nilagyan ko ng kanyon na nakaumang, nakakapanakot, ‘yon pwedeng managot ‘yung may ari ng bahay or ‘yung private property, pero harmless na sabihin nating tarpaulin o maski ano, I think they should revisit that,” Lacson said.

(If I put a cannon in my private property that is aimed somewhere, that is threatening. The owner of the house or the private property can be held liable, but it’s someling harmless, say tarpaulin, I think they should revisit that.)

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno said it would be unfair for candidates if campaign posters on private properties were removed.

“For example, kawawa naman si Vice President Leni Robredo kung tatanggalin mo ‘yung poster niya sa private propety, unfair ‘yun kay VP Leni, unfair ‘yun sa mga kandidato,” he said in an ambush interview.

(For example, it will be bad for Vice President Leni Robredo if they remove her posters on private property, that’s unfair to her, unfair to the other candidates.)

Senator Manny Pacquiao said it is the prerogative of owners to install tarpaulins in their properties.

“Hindi na jurisdiction ng Comelec ‘yun dahil prerogative nila na maglagay kahit anong size pa. Kahit buong property nila lagyan nila ng tarpaulin, wala tayong magagawa. That is private [property] so respetuhin natin,” he added.

(That is no longer under the jurisdiction of Comelec because it is the prerogative of the owner to put those posters up, whatever size they are. Even if they cover their whole property, we couldn’t do anything. That is a private property, we should respect that.)

Former presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the Comelec might be “overenthusiastic” with its action.

“I believe kung nasa private property ay dapat hindi ginagalaw. Baka overenthusiastic lang sila. Pero dapat they should be called out kapag ginawa nila yun,” Abella said.

(I believe if it is on private property, they should not be removed. Maybe they are just overenthusiastic. But they should be called out when they do that.)

The camp of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. urged the Comelec to be balanced and fair with individual freedom of expression.

“While the Comelec has a mandate to carry out, in doing so, we urge them to strike a balance with an individual’s right to freedom of expression especially if it is in his or her private property or ownership,” lawyer Vic Rodriguez, Marcos’ spokesperson, said.

Vice presidential candidate Senator Francis “Kiko Pangilinan said that they received reports that not all candidates’ posters were removed.

“Ang balita natin eh hindi lahat ng kandidato ang poster ay tinatanggal. Patunayan ng PNP at Comelec na hindi sila kumikiling sa sino mang kandidato, patunayan nila ang batas ay pinapatupad at hindi pinapaboran ng kung sino-sino,” Pangilinan said.

(There were reports that not all candidates’ posters were taken down. The PNP and the Comelec should prove that they are not biased against any candidate, they should prove that the law is enforced and does not favor anyone.)

Pangilinan cited a January 2015 ruling on the Diocese of Bacolod vs. Comelec, which ruled on tarpaulins being removed on private properties.

“There is no reason for the state to minimize the right of non-candidate petitioners to post the tarpaulin in their private property. The size of the tarpaulin does not affect anyone else’s constitutional rights,” the ruling stated.

Lawyer Barry Gutierrez, Robredo’s spokesperson, urged the Comelec to review its election policies as he claimed that there was a clear violation of the law when the poll body removed campaign materials in places owned by private individuals as part of its “Oplan Baklas.”

The Comelec on Wednesday led the removal of election campaign posters that it said were either oversized or posted in restricted areas. One of the tarpaulins taken down, based on a livestream aired on the Comelec’s Facebook page, was that of Robredo and her running mate, Pangilinan.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal reiterated that the Comelec has no authority to remove oversized campaign posters in private properties. He said this violates the right of the candidates and the volunteers to freedom of expression.

“It is very arbitrary and a clear case of abuse of power and discretion and violation of one’s constitutional right to property,” Macalintal said, adding Comelec’s action violated Section 1, Article 3 of the Bill of Rights.

Meanwhile, Senator Leila de Lima said the rule on poster sizes only applies to those posted by the candidates in common poster areas, adding it does not apply to non-candidates and ordinary voters.

“The rule on poster sizes only applies to those posted by the candidates in common poster areas and private property with the consent of the owner. It does not apply to materials posted by non-candidates and ordinary voters themselves on their very own private properties such as residential houses of motor vehicles,” De Lima said.

Lawyer Chel Diokno vowed to help victims of injustices, especially those whose freedom of speech were suppressed during the campaign period.

“Handa na po ang mga sumusuporta sa ating mga abogado (Lawyers for Chel) na tumulong sa mga biktima ng inhustisya, lalong lalo na pagdating sa pakikitil ng ating freedom of speech ngayong campaign period,” he said.

(The supporters of Lawyers for Chel are ready to help the victims of injustices, especially when it comes to suppressing our freedom of speech during this campaign period.)

Several organizations, meanwhile, have appealed to the Comelec to stop taking down and confiscating election campaign posters in private properties, saying it is “undemocratic” and “unconstitutional.”

Comelec responds

According to a tweet by GMA’s Tina Panganiban on Thursday, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said private property owners were notified if there are illegal campaign materials within their jurisdiction.

“In some cases, the property owner takes down the materials themselves. Or Comelec na ang sinasabihang magtanggal. Pag hindi tatanggalin, doon magkakaproblema kasi illegal campaign materials ‘yon. Owners will be given notice,” Jimenez said.

He underscored that there is no preferential treatment for candidates in removal of campaign posters in private properties during the campaign period.

The Comelec spokesperson said they have documentation that billboards of almost all presidential candidates were removed.

“Yung iba, kusang nagbaba. Sinusulatan kasi sila ng Comelec kaya yung iba, nagkukusa. Pag hindi, tinatanggal ng Comelec. Pag may mga hindi pa nabaklas pero nasulatan na, kino-coordinate ‘yan with every region. Pinupuntahan ang mga ito at vine-verify,” he said.

“Pero hindi ibig sabihin na may preferential treatment o may discrimination. Hindi lang kayang tapusin in one day,” he added.–LDF, GMA News

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