Comelec: Tarps taken down with consent | Inquirer News

Comelec: Tarps taken down with consent

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
, / 05:30 AM February 19, 2022

BACKLASH A Metropolitan Manila Development Authority worker on Friday tidies up a heap of campaign tarps, banners and posters seized along España Boulevard in Manila as part of the Commission on Elections’ “Oplan Baklas” which has been criticized for violating property and political rights.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday insisted that supporters of Vice President and presidential candidate Leni Robredo had consented to the dismantling of oversized tarpaulins and banners hung outside their residences and privately owned establishments.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez also claimed that the owner of a private compound in Echague, Isabela, on whose cement wall had been painted a mural of Robredo and her running mate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, permitted an election officer to cover it with white paint.


“There was consent with what we did,” Jimenez said in a TV interview.


But Barry Gutierrez, Robredo’s spokesperson, said the Comelec’s “summary” takedown of her campaign materials violated its own resolution that allows private property owners to question the poll body’s order.Gutierrez said the resolution regulates only campaign materials funded by candidates and political parties, not those paid for by their supporters.

He maintained that the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Diocese of Bacolod v. Comelec upholds the right of private citizens to hang campaign posters and banners without size restrictions in privately owned establishments.

He belied Jimenez’s claim that Robredo’s supporters had consented to the takedown.

Robredo’s supporters had taken a video of the unnamed election officer being guarded by men in military uniform while in the process of painting over the mural.

Her legal team said on Thursday that it was considering legal action against the Comelec and its personnel for its “unconstitutional” behavior. But Jimenez said: “The Comelec official had asked for permission to cover that mural. In fact, we do have a video of the property owner [asking] if it could be painted with pink. So there was consent.”

He quickly clarified, however, that murals were not covered by Comelec Resolution No. 10730, which sets restrictions on the size of campaign materials.“It’s technically not included, or at least murals are not mentioned in our resolution. That might be one of the areas we have to look [at] again,” Jimenez said.


Still, Jimenez defended the covering of the Robredo-Pangilinan mural, saying the painted wall “looked like it acted as a poster.”

“As far as the election officer was concerned, it deserved the same treatment, and so gave it the same treatment [as the oversized tarps], again subject to the consent of the property owner,” he said.

The mural that was covered in white paint was repainted by Robredo’s youth volunteers in pink, her campaign color.

But vandals later worked on the wall, leaving such graffiti as “freedom wall” and “BBM for President,” a reference to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., another presidential candidate.

Under instruction

Benedict Calderon, Robredo’s campaign coordinator in Isabela, said the vandalism and the takedown of her campaign materials violated her supporters’ right to free speech.

Jimenez said Comelec personnel assigned to carry out its “Oplan Baklas” were under instruction to first secure the consent of private property owners. He said they also had to explain to the property owners why the posters, tarps and banners of their chosen candidates had to be taken down.

“I think it’s been lost in the conversation that we don’t enter these places without consent … As far as [the operation on Thursday] was concerned, … it should be very clear that we were acting well within the scope of the resolution,” Jimenez said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also said the concerned persons were given prior notice before their campaign materials were dismantled.

“The Comelec gives a warning. Before the actual operation, the Comelec sends a notice to the candidate in the poster so their camp can remove it themselves within three days,” Año said in a TV interview.

“If within the given period, those posters are not taken down, then that’s the time the Comelec and law enforcement agencies get into action,” he said. Jimenez acknowledged that property owners could bar Comelec personnel from entering. But he warned of possible legal consequences: “It’s OK. That’s their right. They can refuse entry. If they refuse, we serve them notice that they need to take them down. If they remain adamant, then charges may be filed against them.”

As to those claiming that Oplan Baklas flouted basic rights, Jimenez argued that the freedoms of speech and of expression were not absolute rights, and that the state could regulate these.

To ensure safety

He said the Comelec was just carrying out its mandate to “level the playing field” by going after those violating prohibitions on oversized and illegally placed campaign materials.

In Southern Leyte, campaign materials deemed illegal by the Comelec, mostly oversized tarps outside common poster areas, have been taken down by personnel of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Engineer Manolo Rojas, chief of the local DPWH office, said in an interview that they had done so in compliance with Comelec directives and “to ensure the safety of motorists and the general public who use our major highways.”

Among those removed were campaign materials of Marcos and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Southern Leyte is considered a bailiwick of President Duterte, the mayor’s father, who was born in the capital city of Maasin.

Rojas appealed to candidates and their supporters to follow Comelec regulations. “We will remove illegally installed campaign materials regardless of political color,” he said.

In Negros Occidental, campaign materials posted on the southern end of Araneta Avenue, Bacolod City, were taken down on Friday. Such operations are to take place every Friday thereafter.

“It is very disappointing that national candidates and their supporters continue to illegally post campaign materials,” Bacolod elections officer Revo Sorbito said.

No green light yet

He said it was the moral obligation of candidates to play squarely and to “show that they follow the law and that they are fair and just.” In Cebu City, Oplan Baklas has yet to start.

Lt. Col. Maria Theresa Macatangay, information officer of the Cebu City Police Office, said no directive had been received from the Comelec to begin removing illegal campaign materials.

“Everything will have to originate from the Comelec. If the Comelec finds illegal campaign materials, they just have to direct us to remove these materials. So we policemen just have to execute,” she said.

Central Visayas’ election attorney Ferdinand Gujilde also said they had to wait for the green light to dismantle unlawful campaign materials.

“But definitely, we will not choose whose campaign materials to remove or retain,” he told the Inquirer by phone on Friday.

As for campaign materials on private property, Gujilde said: “We always proceed with caution … Our procedure is, as long as the material follows the mandated size, there’s no problem. If the material is oversized, we write the owner and ask him or her to remove it within 72 hours. If they refuse, then we will forward the matter to our legal department [for appropriate action].”

Due process

But according to Cebu human rights lawyer Democrito Barcenas, dismantling campaign materials in private places violates the Constitution.

“You can’t deprive a person of his or her right without due process of law. Nobody can enter a private property [without] a court order or a search warrant,” Barcenas said.

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He added: “If I were the owner of the private property, I would file a case of trespass to dwelling against the police or the Comelec personnel who authorized them. They will face not just administrative charges but also [a case for] damages.” —With reports from Joey Gabieta, Carla Gomez, Nestle Semilla and Ador Vincent Mayol in the Visayas; Villamor Visaya Jr. in Northern Luzon; and Dexter Cabalza in Manila

TAGS: Comelec, Oplan Baklas, robredo

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