SC: Political ads on buses, jeepneys part of free speech
Political advertisements on buses and jeepneys are part of one’s right to free speech, the Supreme Court has ruled.
In a 24-page decision dated April 14, the high tribunal voided sections of a Commission on Elections (Comelec) order prohibiting the posting of election materials in transport terminals and on public utility vehicles (PUVs) such as buses, trains, taxis, jeepneys, ferries and tricycles.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a petition filed in 2013 by the party-list group 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-Utak), that described the Comelec ruling as an “infringement of their (constitutional) right to freedom of expression,” and asked the election body to reconsider the implementation of several assailed provisions in its ruling.
The Comelec, however, denied the 1-Utak petition and said that, though privately owned, the PUVs were being operated on the basis of a franchise or a certificate of public convenience, and as such, (their) use should bear a “social function,” in this case, “the equalization of opportunities for all candidates for political office.”
“There is no higher common good than is espoused in Republic Act No. 9006—the equalization of opportunities for all candidates for political office during elections—a policy which Resolution 9615 merely implements,” the Comelec ruling said.
But the high court, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, said the public character of PUVs was not a sufficient justification to ban the posting of political ads on them.
“The right to express one’s preference for a candidate is…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,” the ruling stated.
“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.
The decision also noted that the assailed provisions in the Comelec resolution were “content-neutral regulations, which are not within the constitutional power of the Comelec…and are not necessary to further the objective of ensuring equal time, space and opportunity to the candidates.”