‘Oplan Baklas’ slammed for ‘abuse’; Comelec firm | Inquirer News

‘Oplan Baklas’ slammed for ‘abuse’; Comelec firm

Operation baklas

From left to right: Comelec personnel remove campaign materials of the Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan tandem posted at their volunteer headquarters in Quezon City. Billboard of Marcos-Duterte folded by authorities. (Screengrabs from Comelec.)

The camps of presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, are considering filing a case against the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for its “unconstitutional” takedown of campaign materials put up by their supporters on private property.

At a press conference on Thursday at their Quezon City volunteer headquarters, Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez and election lawyer Romulo Macalintal announced their possible legal action. Gutierrez cited Comelec Resolution No. 10730, which allows posters and tarpaulins to be posted on authorized common areas in public spaces and private property.


The poll body will act on any formal complaint filed in connection with its nationwide “Oplan Baklas,” its spokesperson James Jimenez said.


“While anyone with a grievance in connection with the Comelec’s exercise of its duties is free to seek recourse with the courts, it could be helpful if they were to file formal complaints with the Comelec itself specifying the time and place of the alleged violations,” Jimenez said on Thursday.

Since last week, Robredo’s supporters in Isabela province and Zamboanga City have been complaining that police and other officials were telling them to take down Leni-Kiko tarps hung on their private property without giving them prior notice.

They suspected malicious intent, pointing out that these areas were commanded by the current survey front-runners, presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

On Wednesday, after Comelec personnel had made a show of dismantling illegal campaign materials on major thoroughfares and buildings in Metro Manila, Jimenez challenged those questioning the operations to take the matter to court or file a complaint with the poll body.

He said the Comelec had no reason to stop taking down oversized and misplaced campaign materials.

“In the meantime, we are taking steps to make sure that our laws are being complied with,” Jimenez said. “We are going to continue doing that.”


But Macalintal argued on Thursday that the rules covered only candidates and political parties, and not private persons and private property.

The Comelec “cannot prescribe what the law does not provide,” the election lawyer said. “The Comelec may have found some gaps in the law, but it is not the power of the Comelec to supply the gaps in the law because its function is not legislative.”

Macalintal described the takedowns as “very arbitrary” and “a clear case of abuse of power and discretion, and violation of one’s constitutional right to property…”

“[These people] were never given the chance to be heard, thus violating their procedural right to due process,” he said.

Macalintal cited Timbol v. Comelec, which decided that motu proprio powers could only be exercised by observing due process—“meaning, the person affected should be notified and given the chance to be heard.”

Class suit

Both Macalintal and Gutierrez urged all voters affected by Oplan Baklas, regardless of their chosen candidates, to also take legal action.They may consider filing a class suit in the Supreme Court so that the other candidates can also contest the Comelec rules, Macalintal said.

For now, Gutierrez said, the right to action mainly “belonged to the people who are directly affected. It’s their private property and they are private persons who are not connected to the campaign.”

In separate statements, Pangilinan and senatorial aspirant and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno called on the Comelec and the Philippine National Police to revisit their rules and to “respect private property.”

Pangilinan reminded the Comelec that volunteers had paid for most of the dismantled tarps.

“They are paying for our campaign materials straight from their own pockets, and hanging these up on their own homes to convince other people to support us,” the senator said. “We will stand by them…”

Diokno issued the reminder that the Comelec and the PNP were not allowed to enter homes, offices and other private property without a warrant from a judge. He said officers forcibly entering private property may be subjected to civil cases for damages under the Civil Code, and administrative cases under Republic Act No. 6713. Rights violations

The law schools of the University of the Philippines (UP) and San Sebastian College (SSC) agreed that the takedown of campaign materials on private property violated the constitutional rights of the property owners.

UP Law’s Constitutional Law Cluster and Civil and Political Rights Clinic as well as SSC’s Recoletos Law Center reminded property owners that Comelec personnel could not enter their property forcibly.

“Citizens are well within their rights to politely refuse to grant entry to the Comelec. Also, destroying/removing private signages and other political expression inside private property cannot be done arbitrarily, and certainly without notice and hearing,” the legal aid centers said in a joint public advisory on Thursday.

“Government officials and their agents can be held liable for violating constitutional rights, including illegal entry into property. If you or anyone you know believes that your constitutional rights have been infringed, you can contact [email protected] or [email protected],” they said, adding: “Our laws don’t allow the Comelec to summarily intrude, enter, and worse, dismantle private property … Unduly restrictive regulations may prove unfair to the electorate. When exercised overzealously, the Comelec’s actions become censorship,” they said.

Cops and soldiers

Policemen are also not allowed to take part in Oplan Baklas.

But in Isabela, a video posted on Facebook by the group Sambayanan-Santiago City Volunteers for Leni-Kiko on Thursday showed policemen and firemen dismantling a tarp and other campaign materials posted at its headquarters on private property, and a volunteer pleading that the officers move carefully.

“Sir, don’t you have prior notice? Our volunteers spent their own money on [the posters],” the volunteer was heard saying.

In Echague town, men in military uniform were filmed guarding a man coating a streetside Robredo-Pangilinan mural with white paint.

The group Isabela Para kay Leni-Kiko said the mural was painted on a wall of a privately owned compound.

Benedict Calderon, Robredo’s campaign coordinator in Isabela and a former mayor of Roxas town, said in a phone interview that the dismantling of the campaign materials and expunging of the mural was “injudicious” and surprising because these were displayed on private property.

But in a text message to the Inquirer, lawyer Michael Camangeg, acting election supervisor in Isabela, said the campaign materials were in violation of Comelec rules, such as on the allowable size (24 inches x 36 inches, or 2 feet x 3 feet).

He said the Comelec was only implementing guidelines, and that “fairness was ensured.”

Security only

A live stream of Oplan Baklas in Isabela on Thursday showed that Marcos-Duterte tarps found to be oversized and displayed outside common poster areas were also removed.

In an interview with One News, PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said “PNP personnel should not be involved in removing campaign materials.”

She said they “should be limited to providing security while the Comelec and other government agencies, such as the [public works and environment departments]” were engaged in the operations.

Fajardo said the video of cops removing campaign materials at the headquarters of Robredo-Pangilinan volunteers in Santiago City had reached PNP higher-ups in Camp Crame.

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“This incident is being investigated and validated. Rest assured that those police personnel found violating existing protocols will be reprimanded, if not penalized, for their actions,” she said. —With reports from Villamor Visaya in Isabela and Dexter Cabalza in Manila

TAGS: Comelec, Oplan Baklas, Pangilinan, robredo

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