Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to reconsider the election campaign permit system embodied in its Resolution No. 10732.
De Lima, a former election lawyer, maintained that the COMELEC should revisit its new guidelines before it unnecessarily constraints the candidates’ right to campaign effectively.
“With the start of the campaign period for national posts, we are now realizing that it is an unnecessary added burden to political parties and candidates,” she said.
“This is the first time that COMELEC has implemented a permit system for election campaigns. Undoubtedly, this is because of the pandemic and the need to prevent the spread of the virus in campaign activities.
“However, the guidelines contained in the COMELEC Resolution, even without the permit system, are sufficient enough to ensure safe election campaigning,” she added.
Under Comelec Resolution No. 10732, in-person political gatherings such as campaigning, rallies, caucuses, meetings, conventions, motorcades, caravans, and miting de avances would only be allowed if permitted by the Comelec Campaign Committee (CCC), which is in charge of regulating activities related to the 2022 polls.
COMELEC Spokesman James Jimenez reportedly said that the rules were made “not for convenience” but for safety amid pandemic.
With this, candidates or their representatives, parties, or supporters must submit several documents to the CCC for evaluation, prior to any political activities.
De Lima, a social justice and human rights champion, said COMELEC cannot restrict the candidates’ activities in the guise of safeguarding against COVID-19 by requiring permits.
“Requiring a permit before undertaking any election campaign activity is to me, more than mere regulation, hence, of dubious validity. Would not mere notification to COMELEC of the intended activity suffice, instead of prior authorization?” she asked.
“The permit system adds no recognizable safeguard to the guidelines. It can even have the effect (albeit unintended) of denying a candidate’s inherent right to conduct election campaign activities by the addition of what could in practice become a form of bureaucratic red tape, which is the last thing our democratic processes needs during the time of pandemic and limited in-person campaigning,” she said.
Such permit system, she continued, “almost amounts to prior restraint in the exercise of a candidate’s constitutional right to free speech. In the context of elections and guaranteed political freedoms, all the more does a permit system in election campaigning becomes repugnant in a democracy.”
The lady Senator from Bicol likewise stressed that COMELEC should “revisit and eliminate this campaign permit system, being the hindrance to the holding of free and fair elections that it currently is, before it unnecessarily constraints the candidates’ right to campaign effectively.”
“Nowhere in the Constitution and election laws is the COMELEC empowered to require and issue permits in campaign activities, not even during crisis situation like a pandemic,” said she.
“COMELEC might have just gone overboard this time in its zeal to reinforce election rules in coping with the pandemic. But even a pandemic should not be a cause to restrict our democracy and our democratic exercises,” she added
“Elections are too valuable an exercise for the vibrancy of our democracy to not be conducted properly even in the time of a pandemic,” she added. (30)