SC upholds people’s right to post campaign materials on public transport
MANILA, Philippines — Political advertisements on buses and jeepneys are part of one’s right to free speech and cannot be banned by government.
The Supreme Court has voided sections of a Commission on Elections (Comelec) order prohibiting the posting of election materials in transport terminals and public utility vehicles (PUVs), such as buses, trains, taxis, jeepneys, ferries, and tricycles.
In a 24-page decision dated April 14, the high tribunal ruled in favor of a petition for certiorari filed by the party-list group 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-Utak), which questioned four sections of the Comelec’s Resolution 9615.
The group’s president, Melencio Vargas, argued in a Jan. 30, 2013 letter to the Comelec that the prohibition on privately owned PUVs and terminals infringed on their freedom of expression, as protected under Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution.
The group also asked the Comelec to reconsider the implementation of the assailed provisions and to allow private transport owners to post election campaign materials on their vehicles or terminals.
But the Comelec en banc denied the request in a Feb. 5, 2013 resolution, adopting the recommendation of then acting chair Christian Robert Lim, who said the PUVs, even though privately owned, were operating as a public utility, considering the owners were in possession of a franchise or a certificate of public convenience.
The Comelec, citing Section 6 of the Constitution, said the use of property should bear a “social function,” and that all agents should contribute to common good.
“There is no higher common good than is espoused in Republic Act 9006 – the equalization of opportunities for all candidates for political office during elections – a policy which Resolution 9615 merely implements,” it said.
But the high court, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, said the public character of PUVs was not sufficient justification to restrict the rights of jeepney drivers and operations to free expression.
It noted that the assailed provisions in the Comelec resolution were “content-neutral regulations, which are not within the constitutional power of the Comelec issue and are not necessary to further the objective of ensuring equal time, space, and opportunity to the candidates.”
“The right to express one’s preference for a candidate is likewise part of the fundamental right to free speech. Thus, any governmental restriction on the right to convince others to vote for a candidate carries with it a heavy presumption of invalidity,” it said.
“On a final note, it bears stressing that the freedom to advertise one’s political candidacy is clearly a significant part of our freedom of expression. A restriction on this freedom without rhyme or reason is a violation of the most valuable feature of the democratic life,” the court said.
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