Maintaining that the right to freedom of speech or expression was not absolute, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has opposed a motion by former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Chairman Manuel Morato to junk the electioneering charges the poll body had filed against him.
In an opposition to Morato’s motion to dismiss filed with Quezon City Judge Aurora Hernandez-Calledo, Comelec lawyers insisted that there was probable cause for the filing of four charges against the former PCSO chair.
The Comelec lawyers said the public prosecutor, in this case the Comelec, “exercises a wide latitude of discretion in determining whether a criminal case should be filed in court,” which the courts must respect.
Unless there is a finding of a flaw in the charges filed, they said the court in determining probable cause was limited only to deciding whether or not an arrest warrant should be issued against the accused.
The Comelec lawyers also assailed Morato’s claim that the multiple charges of violations of Republic Act No. 9006, or the Fair Elections Act, and Batas Pambansa 881, or the Omnibus Election Code, filed against him were intended to “punish” his exercise of free speech, expression and of the press.
“The exercise of one’s freedom of speech or expression, whether he is a member of media or not, is not absolute, especially during an election period. This freedom has to yield to the police power of the state, especially for the success of a fair, free, honest, orderly, peaceful and credible elections,” the lawyers maintained.
They said the arguments that Morato offered in his motion to dismiss were a “mere rehash” of the grounds stated in his counteraffidavit and motion for reconsideration with the commission en banc.
The Comelec lawyers asked the court to deny the motion to dismiss for “utter lack of merit.”
Morato has been charged with four counts of electioneering for allegedly using two years ago several episodes of his public affairs show “Dial M,” aired over state-owned IBC-13, to campaign for presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro and his running mate, Eduardo Manzano, in the 2010 national elections, while also urging the public not to vote for certain senatorial candidates.
The former PCSO chairman said the acts imputed to him as partisan political activity were “nothing but pure harassment and political persecution, and also to curtail [the] freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.”