Comelec bent on leveling field for rich, poor politicos
MANILA, Philippines–Though disappointed by the Supreme Court decision junking its rule on stricter airtime limits, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday said it would craft a new resolution with a similar purpose of leveling the playing field between rich and poor candidates in the 2016 balloting.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the commission en banc would ensure that the new resolution would be in accordance with the high court ruling so it won’t meet the fate that befell the one that the poll body issued for the 2013 elections.
Despite the resolution being struck down, the Comelec still has the power to control excessive public exposure of election candidates through strict monitoring of campaign expenses, Brillantes said.
“There may not be a limit on airtime of political ads but there is a limit on spending. So we can still go after these candidates through their campaign expenses,” he said.
Currently, candidates could spend just P3 to P10 per registered voter.
Broadcast stations had questioned the “restrictive” regulations, arguing that the drastic reduction in allowed airtime would deprive the public of the right to information.
“I feel bad because the limitation we wanted was just to equalize the playing field. Now, the rich politicians are free again … but the Supreme Court knows better so we can’t do anything about it,” Brillantes told reporters on Wednesday.
But he said that he still found it wrong that wealthy candidates would benefit more from the court ruling on political ads. “It’s not good, in my opinion. Nanghihinayang talaga ako,” he said.
On Tuesday, the high court declared unconstitutional a portion of a Comelec resolution limiting airtime on political advertisements to an “aggregate total” of 120 minutes of TV ads and 180 minutes of radio ads for national candidates, and 60 minutes of total TV airtime and 90 minutes of total radio airtime for local candidates.
In ruling against the restrictive section of the Comelec resolution, the high court said the provision breached basic freedoms and lacked prior consultation before its implementation.
“Among the reasons relied upon by the court in striking down Section 9 (a) were: (a) the arbitrary manner by which Comelec changed the previous regulation from “per station” to “aggregate total”; (b) the violation of freedom of expression, speech and of the press; (c) the violation of the people’s right to suffrage; (d) the absence of prior hearing before adoption,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said in briefing notes sent to the media.
Brillantes said the Comelec would abide by the ruling, noting that it had no effect “legally” on the Comelec resolution (issued in April 2013) because the high court had issued a temporary restraining order that barred the poll body from enforcing it in last year’s elections.
“It wasn’t implemented at all,” the Comelec chief said. “The Supreme Court said it is unconstitutional … It is not yet clear to us. We have not yet read the decision but what we are going to do is we will study the content and make another resolution for 2016, which will be compliant with the ruling,” he added.
He said the Comelec en banc could still salvage some provisions of the resolution, including the “right to reply” of a candidate accused of exceeding the allotted airtime for TV and radio ads.
“The Supreme Court said that provision is OK so we can develop that,” Brillantes said.
He said the Comelec was not planning to file a motion for reconsideration in the high court. “We will just see what we can implement in 2016.”