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Mandaue politicians scrape off illegal posters

A day after local Commission on Elections officials threatened to crack the whip on election propaganda rule violators, politicians in Mandaue City yesterday rolled up their sleeves and personally tore down their posters that were deemed illegal under the Fair Elections Act.

Candidates affiliated with the Liberal Party (LP) led by reelectionist Mayor Jonas Cortes went to barangay Cabancalan and joined workers from the City Engineering Office as well as volunteers in scraping off posters plastered on walls and tarpaulins strung on trees, utility poles and cables along M.L. Quezon Street yesterday morning.

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Reelectionist Provincial Boardmember Thadeo Ouano and Councilor Emmarie Ouano-Dizon, who joined the drive, removed their posters which they found tacked on a tree in barangay Maguikay despite the insistence of the property owner to let the posters stay. Ouano explained that they have to follow the Comelec’s guidelines, which include the prohibition of the posting of propaganda materials on trees. The posters also exceeded the dimensions specified under Section 3 of Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Elections Act which states that: “Pamphlets, leaflets, cards, decals, stickers or other written or printed materials the size of which does not exceed eight and one-half inches in width and fourteen inches in length.”

Mayor Cortes said he has directed the “clean and green” task force to remove all political propaganda materials put up in areas other than those designated by the Comelec as “common poster areas”.

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“In the past three days when the campaign started, Mandaue has changed and seems to be in disarray because of these posters,” he said.

“All of us (in the LP) decided to remove our posters immediately and we’ll guide our supporters to just place it on the designated common areas.”

The mayor also called on barangay captains to help enforce Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Elections Act which regulates propaganda use to ensure that all candidate will enjoy a level playing field in their bid for elective public positions in the May elections.

“We will do the first act of the Comelec laws, a very simple law and yet we cannot follow. We are asking all the barangay captains to help us implement this law. We need to prevent this now than have a hard time removing it,” Cortes said.

Cortes likewise asked other government regulators specifically the Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to also help out in enforcing the law by removing propaganda materials displayed on buses and jeepneys. He also appealed to the public not to jump into conclusions when they see illegally posted propaganda materials.

“If they find posters (outside) the common poster areas, please do not immediately condemn the candidate. Verify first, it might be the work of a candidate’s opponent as part of a scheme to malign him,” Cortes said.

Setting an example

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While no candidate has been sanctioned yet in connection with illegal campaign materials, local Comelec officials vow to put teeth into the country’s electoral laws.

“We are serious. From a scale of 1 to 10, I shall say ’10’ on our campaign to run after violators. We should set an example to stop these unlawful practice,” said Cebu provincial elections supervisor Eddie Aba.

The poll body is set to send notices to candidates with campaign posters that violate electoral laws.

The notices vary in form. One is intended for candidates with campaign materials that exceed the allowable dimensions while another is directed to those whose propaganda materials were seen outside the designated common poster areas.

“Since then, no one has been charged yet for illegal campaign posters. But if they won’t listen to us this time, we can have them as examples,” Aba said.

“Once they (candidates) receive the notice from the Comelec, they should pay heed otherwise we will be left with no other option but to inform our law department that these particular candidates violated the election laws,” he added.

Aba said anyone found guilty of violating the campaign guidelines may be imprisoned for one to six years without probation.

Probation is supposed to allow a person convicted of a criminal offense not to serve his or her full sentence on the promise of good behavior. However, this procedure won’t be applicable for election offenses.

Aside from a jail term, Aba said anyone found guilty of violating campaign guidelines shall also be disqualified from holding public office and a ground for the candidate’s disqualification.

When asked how many candidates would they be sending the notices to, he said “we have a number of them.”

Aba has asked election officers to furnish him with the list of names of candidates with illegal campaign posters.

Under section 6, paragraph c of Comelec Resolution No. 9615 or the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Fair Election Act, any “posters made of cloth, paper, cardboard, or any other material, whether framed or posted” shall not exceed 2 x 3 feet.

Even if oversized posters are placed on designated common poster areas, the Comelec said it is still unlawful to proliferate campaign materials which goes beyond the size limit.

“While this office appreciates your compliance with the common poster area, the election propaganda material appears to exceed the maximum allowable size for a poster which is 2 by 3 feet,” the notice which is set to be distributed by the Comelec to violators stated.

“As such, you are directed to reduce the size of your election propaganda material to comply with size limitations or remove them within 3 days from receipt of this notice, otherwise appropriate sanctions under the rules will be imposed upon you,” it added.

The Comelec will also admonish candidates to remove campaign posters which are placed outside the designated areas.

“You are directed to remove them within 3 days from receipt of this notice, otherwise you will be presumed to have caused their posting outside the common poster areas,” the notice reads.

A provision of Comelec Resolution No. 9615 states that “no lawful election propaganda materials shall be allowed outside the common poster areas except in private properties with the consent of the owner…”

Campaign materials are also prohibited on trees, telephone and electrical lines and posts, school gates, different public utility vehicles such as bus, jeepney, tricycle, pedicab, as well as other non-common poster areas.

The notices drafted by provincial election officer Ferdinand Guijilde include the following details: “name of the candidate; position aspired for and party, if any; and address indicated in the Certificate of Candidacy.”

Aba said the cases which will be lodged before the Comelec’s legal department shall under investigation.

“The Law Department will ask us to submit evidence. On the other hand, those subjected to the investigation shall be given a chance to answer the allegations before appropriate legal actions will be possibly made,” he said.

Aside from the proliferation of illegal campaign materials, the Comelec also reminded candidates as well as the electorate to avoid “vote buying and selling.”

Aba said there were some individuals who were convicted of vote-buying in Negros in the past years.

He, however, admitted that it is difficult to prove vote buying and selling in case charges will be filed against concerned individuals.

“It’s hard for us to prosecute vote buying due to the lack of witnesses. We should have concrete evidence,” he said.

Aba said anyone who accepts money from a politician in exchange of a vote is also punishable under the law.

“It takes two to tango,” he said.

He urged policemen to help them stop vote buying and selling.

He said anyone can also report to the Comelec incidents of vote buying and selling.

Like the use of illegal posters, Aba said vote buying and selling also carries the penalty of one to six years of imprisonment without probation, perpetual disqualifcation from public office.

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