Comelec to crack down on 'Epal' politicians

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 21 2013 04:54 PM | Updated as of Jan 22 2013 12:55 AM

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) today told candidates to clean up their excessive "epal" campaign paraphernalia before the start of the official campaign period or they risk facing an election offense.

Chairman Sixto Brillantes said Comelec resolution 9615, which regulates all forms of political advertising, has the following "anti-epal" provisions:

"SECTION 25. Removal of Prohibited Propaganda Materials Before the Start of the Campaign Period. - All prohibited forms of election propaganda as described in Section 7 of these Rules shall be immediately removed, or caused to be removed, by said candidate or party before the start of the campaign period; otherwise, the said candidate or party shall be presumed to have committed the pertinent election offense during said campaign period for national candidates or for local candidates as the case may be. The prohibited forms of propaganda contemplated in this Section include any names, images, logos, brands, insignias, color, motifs, initials, and other forms of identifiable graphical representations placed by incumbent officials on any public structures or places as enumerated in Section 7 (g) of these Rules."

Brillantes said the paraphernalia should be out by February 12 for national candidates and March 30 for local candidates.

Brillantes clarified that the rule covers posters that say "this is a project of___" pertaining to the practice of politicians to put names on their projects.

It also includes politicians appearing in product advertisements on public utility vehicles. "Kahit product endorsement, that's advertising as far as we are concerned, that's indirect political campaigning using a product as a means to campaign."

Brillantes also maintained that regulations on online advertising will be enforceable since these will all be tied up to campaign financing.

He pointed out that the Comelec will have assistance from citizens' arms in monitoring these ads.

He said the candidates' personal websites are not covered by the ban so long as no expenses are incurred for the website.

Brillantes said the Comelec will amend its resolution as it goes along.

As this developed, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez took to social media to defend resolution 9615 from critics.

In particular, he defended the rule requiring Comelec consent for the TV and radio guestings of candidates.

"Appearance incidental to news is ok. If guesting on variety, entertainment shows, Comelec consent prevents tolling of time...consent is required to ensure all candidates in the same category are given the opportunity to appear," Jimenez said.

Jimenez argued that the permit requirement is not a form of prior restraint on the media which is banned by the Constitution.

"Because prior restraint implies the power to prevent publication or airing. In this case, the only consequence is, candidates are tolled."

Under the law and rules of the Comelec, candidates have airtime limits for their advertisements. For national candidates, it's an aggregate of 120 minutes for TV and 180 minutes for radio. For local candidates, that's an aggregate of 60 minutes for TV and 90 minutes for radio.

The Comelec, however, clarified that this prohibition does not cover interviews of candidates in newscasts.