Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima questions the Commission on Election’s (COMELEC) move to take down campaign materials set up by non-candidates on their own private property for being unconstitutional.
De Lima, a former election lawyer, said the COMELEC should instead revisit and review its regulations that have proven to be burdensome on candidates and the electorate as well, instead of being overly zealous in the regulation of election free speech.
“The right of citizens to express their electoral preferences through material posted, hung or otherwise set up on their own property and made visible publicly is protected speech. It cannot be subjected to COMELEC regulation legally without violating the constitutional proscription against prior restraint,” she said in her Dispatch from Crame No.1218 issued today.
“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 or motor vehicles,” she added.
Last Feb. 11, volunteers campaigning for the presidency of Vice President Leni Robredo slammed the COMELEC after it supposedly took down campaign tarpaulins of the vice president in their private properties and volunteer headquarters.
In a press conference, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said they are just “making steps” to ensure that “our laws are complied with.”
De Lima pointed out that applying COMELEC Resolution No. 10730 to the exercise of a citizen’s free speech on his own private property “is ultra vires, or outside the authority of the COMELEC,” because it goes against the Constitution as already ruled by the Supreme Court in the case of the Diocese of Bacolod v. COMELEC.
In the said case, the Supreme Court ruled that the COMELEC has no right to take down tarpaulins, posters or streamers set up by non-candidates on their own private property.
“Sec. 20 of COMELEC Res. No. 10730 requiring campaign materials posted on private property to comply with the regulation size in accordance with the Fair Elections Act is therefore only applicable if it is the candidate who posted the same upon the owner’s consent,” she said.
“It does not apply if the material is posted upon the volition and initiative of the private property owner himself, and without any participation from the candidate. This is the property owner’s exercise of his free speech,” she added.
In an earlier Tweet, De Lima remarked: “Siguruhin lang nila na kaya nilang sagutin at handa silang managot sa pagtatanggal sa campaign posters na nasa private property at walang abiso. Imbes na ilegal na pagbabaklas ng poster ang pinagdidiskitahan, tanggalin nila ang polisiyang dagdag pabigat sa kandidato at botante”. (30)