Comelec to regulate online campaigns

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 16 2013 05:20 PM | Updated as of Jan 17 2013 01:20 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections is regulating election campaigns online for the first time in 2013.

However, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said regulations do not cover the social media accounts of private citizens on Facebook and Twitter.

The poll body today issued Resolution 9601 imposing limits on the spending and forms of political campaigns that candidates can start when the official campaign periods begin.

One part of the Comelec order states that personal opinions including preferences for candidates contained in blogs “shall not be considered acts of election campaigning or partisan political activity unless expressed by government officials in the Executive Department, the Legislative Department, the Judiciary, the Constitutional Commissions, and members of the Civil Service.”

These will also not be deducted from the allowed limits of candidates in campaigning.

The resolution defined blogs and microblogs as “websites on which an individual or group of users, respectively, record news, opinions, and information, in varying degrees of regularity. A micro-blog refers to a blogging format which allows users to exchange small elements of content - referred to variously as posts or status updates - such as short sentences, individual images, or links to video material uploaded to the Internet."

Brillantes said he is OK with government officials and employees expressing their opinion but said they should refrain from tweeting their preferences for candidates because it is against the law once the campaign period begins.

He said preferences for candidates may be charged to the allowed spending and campaigning of candidates if it is proven that the candidates are engaged in a pattern of using social media to campaign.

The resolution imposes the following spending limit:

"SECTION 5. Authorized Expenses o f Candidates and Parties. - The aggregate amount that a candidate or party may spend for election campaign shall be as follows:

a. For candidates - Three pesos (P3.00) for every voter currently registered in the constituency where the candidate filed his certificate of candidacy;

b. For other candidates without any political party and without support from any political party - Five pesos (P5.00) for every voter currently registered in the constituency where the candidate filed his certificate of candidacy.

c. For Political Parties and party-list groups - Five pesos (P5.00) for every voter currently registered in the constituency or constituencies where it has official candidates."

Brillantes said violations of campaign regulations will be considered illegal campaigning, an election offense.

He conceded the poll body is still feeling its way in regulating new media and may issue amendatory resolutions depending on the initial implementation of the rules.

"Ito bago we start implementing this with the resolution out already. Then we observe. We can always supplement or amend it as we move on. Tignan natin, meron bang mga abuso. Maybe we can come out with amendatory resolution,” he said.

Campaign finance

Brillantes said the regulations will always be connected to campaign finance.

"The issue is how much charge sa candidate? You can always print as you like within the sizes required by law. We always ask you how much? It’s not really a big issue coming out with it. It is an initial deterrent to abuse it,” he said.

The Comelec chief said they will ask the Metro Manila Development Authority to remove campaign posters posted outside of the designated common poster areas.

The resolution names the following as allowed election propaganda:

(a) Pamphlets, leaflets, cards, decals, stickers or other written or printed materials the size of which does not exceed eight and one-half inches (8 V2") in width and fourteen inches (14") in length;

(b) Handwritten or printed letters urging voters to vote for or against any particular political party or candidate for public office;

(c) Posters made of cloth, paper, cardboard or any other material, whether framed or posted, with an area not exceeding two feet (2') by three feet (3');

(d) Streamers not exceeding three feet (3') by eight feet (8') in size displayed at the site and on the occasion of a public meeting or rally. Said streamers may be displayed five (5) days before the date of the meeting or rally and shall be removed within twenty-four (24) hours after said meeting or rally;

(e) Mobile units, vehicles motorcades of all types, whether engine or manpower driven or animal drawn, with or without sound systems or loud speakers and with or without lights;

(f) Paid advertisements in print or broadcast media subject to the requirements set forth in Section 9 hereof and Republic Act No. 9006;

(g) In headquarters or residences of candidates, lawful election paraphernalia may be displayed, but banners or streamers referred to in paragraph (d) above shall not be allowed;

(h) All other forms of election propaganda not prohibited by the Omnibus Election Code or these rules.

The following are banned:

During the campaign period, it is unlawful:

(a) To print, publish, post or distribute any newspaper, newsletter, newsweekly, gazette or magazine advertising, pamphlet, leaflet, card, decal, bumper sticker, poster, comic book, circular, handbill, streamer, sample list of candidates or any published or printed political matter and to air or broadcast any election propaganda or political advertisement by television or radio or on the internet for or against a candidate or group of candidates to any public office, unless they bear and be identified by the reasonably legible, or audible words "political advertisement paid for," followed by the true and correct name and address of the candidate or party for whose benefit the election propaganda was printed or aired. It shall likewise be unlawful to publish, print or distribute said campaign materials unless they bear, and are identified by, the reasonably legible, or audible words "political advertisements paid by," followed by the true and correct name and address of the payor.

(b) To print, publish, broadcast or exhibit any such election propaganda donated or given free of charge by any person or publishing firm or broadcast entity to a candidate or party without the written acceptance by the said candidate or party and unless they bear and be identified by the words " printed free of charge," or " airtime for this broadcast was provided free of charge by", respectively, followed by the true and correct name and address of the said publishing firm or broadcast entity;

(c) To show, display or exhibit publicly in a theater, television station, or any public forum any movie, cinematography or documentary portraying the life or biography of a candidate, or in which a character is portrayed by an actor or media personality who is himself a candidate;

(d) For any newspaper or publication, radio, television or cable television station, or other mass media, or any person making use of the mass media to sell or to give free of charge print space or air time for campaign or election propaganda purposes to any candidate or party in excess of the size, duration or frequency authorized by law or these rules;

(e) For any radio, television, cable television station, announcer or broadcaster to allow the scheduling of any program, or permit any sponsor to manifestly favor or oppose any candidate or party by unduly or repeatedly referring to, or unnecessarily mentioning his name or including therein said candidate or party; and

(f) To post, display or exhibit any election campaign or propaganda material outside of authorized common poster areas, in public places, or in private properties without the consent of the owner thereof.

(g) Public places referred to in the previous section

Citizens’ arm

The Comelec is also accrediting a third group, 1Vote, composed of pastors, as a citizens’ arm to help in monitoring the elections.

Brillantes said the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) will be tasked with monitoring campaign finance since its chief, Corazon dela Paz is a known auditor.

"Hihigpitan namin. Pagdating ng campaign period, mahigpit na mahigpit dahil inabuso. Walang premature campaigning,” he said.

The Comelec chief said they will also tap anti-epal groups. They will also look at requiring candidates to remove their posters after the elections.

Previously, Brillantes said they will also disallow tandem ads which have been used by candidates to skirt limits on spending and airtime. He said effective this campaign season, the Comelec will deduct from the allowed limit of all candidates in the same advertisement.

Brillantes conceded that their problem in regulating campaigns over the media is at the local media level.

"It is local media where most of radio have some political connections. Yun ang prublema namin. We want to send message to them na wag niyo abusuhin,” he said.

He also said that for now, there is no prohibition against President Aquino or any government official from raising the hands of candidates since the campaign period hasn't begun.