Robredo camp mulls legal action vs Comelec takedown of volunteers' tarps

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 17 2022 01:14 PM

Vice President Leni Robredo visits the province of Aklan, as part of her 2-day barnstorming of Panay Island on Tuesday, February 15. VP Leni Media handout
Vice President Leni Robredo visits the province of Aklan, as part of her 2-day barnstorming of Panay Island on Tuesday, February 15. VP Leni Media handout

MANILA — The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo on Thursday said it was considering pursuing legal action against the Commission on Elections' removal of campaign materials for her presidential bid in the homes of volunteers.

Viral videos show enforcers entering the private properties of Robredo's supporters and taking down tarpaulins, which the Comelec said should only be placed in common poster areas. 

Robredo was deeply concerned over the incident, said her spokesman Barry Gutierrez. 

"As a lawyer, as isang public servant na talagang mahalagang-mahalaga sa kaniya iyong exercise ng karapatan ng bawat mamamayan, lalo na nitong freedom of speech, malalim iyong kaniyang concern," he said in a press conference. 

(As a lawyer and as a public servant, the exercise of the rights of every citizen is very important to her, especially the freedom of speech. Her concern on this is deep.) 

"Mula simula, sinasabi nating people’s campaign ito, ibig sabihin hindi lang iyong mga tradisyunal na bahagi ng kampanya, kundi mga volunteers, kumikilos, nagse-self fund, nagse-self initiate ng kani-kanilang mga pagkilos. Iyong ganitong klaseng aksyon ng Comelec, parang may pagpigil nun." 

(From the start, we have said this is a people's campaign. This means it is comprised not just of the traditional parts of a campaign, but of volunteers who self-fund and initiate their own movements. Actions like this by the Comelec seems to curb that.) 

He said their camp appeals to the poll body, "Balikan nila itong polisiyang ito dahil mukhang malinaw itong paglabag sa ating konstitusyon at sa batas." 

(They should review this policy because it appears this is a clear violation of our constitution and the law.) 

"At kung kinakailangan, pinag-aaralan sa kasalukuyan kung posibleng mag-file ng karapat-dapat na kaso para maging mas klaro ‘yong rule dito sa issue na ‘to," Gutierrez added. 

(And if needed, the possibility of filing an appropriate case is being studied so that the rule on this issue could be clarified.) 
 
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal in the same press conference raised the idea of a class suit by presidential contenders so that the issue could be threshed out immediately. 

"That is something that we will further study and consider," said Gutierrez. 
 
ILLEGAL, ABSURD?

Macalintal said the takedown of the campaign materials was "very arbitrary and a clear case of abuse of power and discretion and violation of one’s constitutional right to property."

He said the tarpaulins were removed without a hearing, which violated their owner's' right to due process. 

"Kahit iyong Republic Act na Revised Penal Code on trespass to dwelling, trespassing, pumasok na sila, seizure of property without any warrant was also violated by the Commission on Elections," Macalintal argued. 

(Even the Revised Penal Code on trespass to dwelling, trespassing, when the entered, and seizure of property without any warrant was also violated.) 

"Iyon ngang kahit meron kang 1,000 granada, 1,000 machine gun sa loob ng bahay mo, hindi puwedeng pumasok ang pulis without any warrant of arrest, without warrant of seizure. Iyon pa kayang very innocent looking posters na it does not in any way endanger any interest of the government, it does not violate the rights of other people," he said. 

(Even if you have a thousands grenades, machine guns inside your house, the police cannot enter without any warrant of arrest, without warrant of seizure. How much more for very innocent posters that do not in any way endanger any interest of the government?) 

Macalintal also noted that common poster areas should not exceed 12 by 16 feet. If 10 candidates for president, 9 for vice president, 64 Senate bets, and 170 party-lists share this space, they can only each put up a .04 by .06-feet poster, he said. 

"Can you imagine how absurd the regulation is?" he said. 

"Kailangan mo ng microscope, kailangan mo ng telescope para makita mo kung ano ‘yong nakalagay sa common poster area kasi ga-tungaw lang ang pupuwede ma-post." 

(You would need a a microscope, a telescope to see what's on the common poster area because what you can post will be as small as a mite.) 

WHAT COMELEC SAYS 

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Comelec spokesman James Jimenez last Feb. 8 said the poll body has 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.

 
Only one poster with a size of up to 3ft x 8ft can be set up in headquarters or volunteer centers of national candidates, said Comelec-Metro Manila assistant regional director Jovencio Balanquit. 

But he said the Comelec needs to notify owners of private properties before removing illegal campaign materials.

"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.

(We cannot enter if it's inside and oversized. Comelec will notify for removal. If it it not removed, the next step will be appropriate legal action.)

Jimenez on Wednesday said those who feel aggrieved by Comelec's restrictions should just file a complaint.

But Macalintal said he hoped the Comelec would listen to objections without going to court.

"Matagal din naman bago ka makakuha ng temporary restraining order. Baka tapos na iyong eleksyon, hindi pa nari-resolve ‘yan," he said. 

"Baka naman marinig nila ito at mag-concentrate na lang sila sa iba pang mga issues. Napakaraming issues ang dapat nilang gawin. Iyon lamang vote buying, hindi nila masugpo," he said. 

(It will take a while before you can get a temporary restraining order. The elections could already be over and that would not be resolved yet. Maybe they could hear this and they could just concentrate on other issues. There are so many issues they need to address. They cannot even curb vote buying.) 

WHAT SUPPORTERS CAN DO 

Macalintal urged the supporters of all presidential bets, "Ipaglaban po ninyo ang inyong karapatan." 

(Fight for your right.) 

Volunteers should document their objection to the takedown of campaign materials, and ask for due notice and a hearing, said Gutierrez. 

"Pero obviously, kung talagang ipipilit, ‘wag lumaban, wala ka naman magagawa. Pero i-document para kung sakali mang kailangan magsampa ng kaso later on… meron kang pinanghahawakang ebidensya," he advised. 

(But obviously, if they insist, do not resist, you can't do anything. But document it so that if a case has to be filed later on, you have evidence.) 
 
He said volunteer lawyers have also offered their assistance to Robredo's supporters.