MANILA—Commission on Elections personnel cannot enter private properties to remove campaign materials — whether they are legal or not— a Comelec official said Wednesday.
This was a reaction to several videos of Comelec personnel dismantling campaign materials on private properties that went viral on social media, with some describing the incidents as "trespassing" and suppression of free speech.
According to Comelec assistant regional director Jovencio Balanquit, their personnel are not permitted to enter private properties to remove oversized campaign posters and materials out of respect for privacy of owners.
Based on Comelec Resolution No. 10730 — or the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) of the Fair Elections Act — campaign posters should comply with the allowable size of 2 feet x 3 feet, Balanquit said.
"Di pwede pasukin kung nasa loob at oversized. Comelec will notify for removal. 'Pag di pa rin tinanggal, next step . . . appropriate legal action. But never that we will enter the property to remove the campaign material," the official told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
Comelec will only notify owners of private properties with illegal campaign materials to remove them, Balanquit added.
The poll body's Oplan Baklas personnel earlier dismantled some tarpaulins displayed at a Robredo-Pangilinan volunteers' center in Quezon City. Supporters argued that the area is private property, outside the jurisdiction of Comelec.
Election lawyer Emil Marañon criticized the Comelec's actions, even calling their personnel "thugs", while poll legal counsel Romulo Macalintal said it should have given private citizens some time to explain their side before taking down the allegedly violative campaign materials.
Last February 8, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said they have the authority to regulate campaign materials even in personal spaces.
"Our rule is that even if you're posting on private property, you cannot post in excess of the allowed sizes. You can post campaign materials in your personal property but you're still going to have to abide by the size requirement," Jimenez said.
According to Balanquit, only one poster with a size of up to 3ft x 8ft can be set up in headquarters or volunteer centers of national candidates.
He said candidates were directed to remove propaganda materials that were placed before the start of the official campaign period, which was on February 8.
These include logos, images, letters, insignia or any graphical presentation, Balanquit said.
In a press conference Wednesday, Jimenez said those who feel aggrieved by Comelec's restrictions on campaign materials should just file a complaint.
"If anyone feels they have an action against Comelec, they must pursue that," Jimenez said.