Comelec looking into possible health protocol violations during candidates' campaign

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 21 2022 04:42 PM

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday said it is looking into reports of possible violations of minimum public health standards for in-person campaign by candidates in the May elections.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the poll body is looking into any report of protocol breaches, although no formal complaint has been filed against any candidate yet.

“Wala pang nafa-filean, but under evaluation na po yung mga reports tungkol diyan,” he said at the Laging Handa press briefing. 

Jimenez also said there are no complaints yet against their in-person campaign guidelines under Comelec Resolution 10732. 

“So far, wala naman naghahain ng formal request sa amin, ng formal complaint. Tuloy-tuloy lang [ang] pag-implement natin niyan," he said.

Under the resolution, in-person political gatherings such as campaigning, rallies, caucuses, meetings, conventions, motorcades, caravans, and miting de avances would only be allowed if permitted by the Comelec Campaign Committee (CCC), a multi-agency "super body" in charge of regulating activities related to Halalan 2022. 

Entering private dwellings, and handshakes, hugs, kisses, going arm-in-arm, or any action that involves physical contact between a candidate and a voter are also prohibited. 

Taking selfies and distributing food and drinks are not allowed, the resolution said. 

OPLAN BAKLAS TO CONTINUE

Meanwhile, Jimenez also said that the poll body will carry on with its "Oplan Baklas".

The Comelec came under fire last week after election-related materials were taken down by authorities in private properties.

“Tungkol naman sa pagpaandar ng Baklas, tuloy pa rin yan, siyempre. Hindi naman yung kabuuan ng Operation Baklas kontrobersyal, doon lang sa involved [ang] private property," he said.

"For the streets, yung mga nasa public places, nakakabit sa mga kawad ng kuryente, ay tuloy po kaming magbabaklas ng ganiyan.”

Jimenez reiterated they always seek the permission of private property owners before taking down allegedly oversized campaign materials within their premises.

But he acknowledged that posters of private property owners that do not come from the candidate's campaign team or are not printed copies of official paraphernalia are considered part of their legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression.

“Well, agree naman po na 'di talaga pwedeng basta-basta magbaklas. Kaya nga po ang polisya ng Comelec at ang ginagawa ng ating officers ay nagpapaalam muna, humihingi muna sila ng pahintulot sa property owner para magbaklas," the spokesman said.

“In a lot of cases, yung property owner na mismo nagsasabi na, 'Sige, kayo na magbaklas', kasi may mga ladder sila, may mga kakayanan sila or kasama nila (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority) halimabawa, hinahayaan na Comelec officials magbaklas para sa kanila."

"Pero always with consent, 'yan po ang polisiya namin," he said. 

Jimenez said official campaign paraphernalia of candidates does not fall within the private property owner's exercise of freedom of expression.

“Depende yan doon sa material na linalabas. Kung ang ginagawa mo lang eh pino-post mo yung poster ng kandidato, ibang usapan yan. That's just simple political campaigning," he said.

"Ayon sa Supreme Court, pwede i-regulate yan. Pero kunwari nagpagawa ka ng sarili mong banner at nagpahayag ka ng sarili mong adbokasiya at in the process nabanggit mo yung pangalan ng kandidato, yaan maari pa makalusot 'yan kasi nga adbokasiya mo yan,“ he added.

“Pero kung gagamit ka lang ng poster na binigay sa iyo ng campaign, or pinrint mo ang disenyo ng campaign at wala kang dinagdag diyan, eh ordinaryong campaign materials po yan. At ayon po sa interpretasyon namin ng Supreme Court jurisprudence, eh pwedeng ma-regulate.”

Jimenez warned candidates they can be held accountable for poster violations if it can be proven that they know and are consenting or acquiescing to these. 

“May sagutin po yung kandidato kung mapaptunayan na alam niya na ginagawa itong illegal campaign materials at hinahahayaan niya o hinahayaan niya magtuloy-tuloy. In that case, aabot sa kaniya ang accountability, definitely," he said.

"Ang parusa po dito ay range of penalties. Meron siyang kulong up to 6 years. Meron siyang fine. At meron possibility ng disqualification from holding office.”

Jimenez said that so far, no cases or complaints have been filed over allegedly illegal campaign paraphernalia.

“No cases have been filed so far. And yung cases naman na potentially mafa-file against illegally posted materials ay siyempre, may notice requirement pa tayo diyan," he said.

"In many cases, 'di pa naman nagla-lapse yan mga notice natin. Pero sa mga baklas last week, abatement lang po yun, tinatanggal lang natin yung bawal.”

Jimenez said the poll body welcomes any complaints against their policy. 

“Mas maganda po yun, tuloy na lang nila para malinaw ang issue. Kasi ang sa amin po, may operational guidelines din naman kami... Sabi ko nga, bukas ang Comelec sa pagre-reevaluate ng guidelines na 'yan, sa pagtingin ulit sa polisya at prinsipyo na sinusunod natin. Pero of course, kung gusto nila magkaso, that's perfectly within their rights.”

“Tinitignan namin ngayon pero siyempre kung merong magbibigay ng taliwas na opinyon or mga kakaibang interpretation ng policies or meron sila observations na gusto [ipakita] sa Comelec, then we are willing to accept these written position papers," he said.

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