Integrated Bar says concerned over Oplan Baklas, urges Comelec to review policy

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2022 05:50 PM

MANILA - The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Sunday expressed concern over the Commission on Elections' Oplan Baklas.

In a statement, IBP said posters "voluntarily and unilaterally put up by citizens in the confines of their private property" should not be considered as election propaganda or materials, based on the Supreme Court's pronouncements in the case of the Diocese of Bacolod vs Comelec case in 2015.

"It follows that Comelec's power to remove, confiscate or destroy "any prohibited form of election propaganda" or "unlawful election materials" under sections 25 to 29 of Comelec Resolution No. 10730 is also limited to those posted or caused to be posted by candidates, political parties and party list groups," it said.

"As such, Comelec's dismantling of political posters posted by non-candidates, political party or party list groups is void for going beyond the scope provided by law," IBP added.

IBP also said that Comelec's size restrictions on campaign materials should not be applied to materials or posters put up by individuals without any political relationship to any candidate.

"Since the dismantled posters, voluntarily posted by non-candidates at their own instance, are not election propaganda regulated by law, it goes without saying that the Comelec cannot overzealously subject them to the 2 feet by 3 feet restriction for candidates in the guise of ensuring equal opportunity among candidates," it said.

IBP likewise urged Comelec to set reasonable rules for its Oplan Baklas, which includes the following:

  • investigating whether any election-related material in whatever form is covered by and violative of Republic Act No. 9006
  • giving affected citizens the right to be heard and to defend their rights to lawful expressions and to peacefully express them in the confines of their property
  • placing sufficient safeguards or protocols in confiscating, removing, dismantling or destroying prohibited election propaganda and materials
  • setting clear scope and limits to what the police force are allowed to do in assisting the Comelec
  • providing expeditious remedies that may be availed by aggrieved citizens

"The IBP is committed to assist the Comelec and voluntary organizations in delivering a peaceful, credible and safe electoral process. However, the IBP firmly believes that there can be no meaningful exercise of the right to suffrage if the people's basic and essential freedoms are unduly restrained and disregarded in the name of equal opportunity for all candidates," it added.

Comelec came under fire earlier this month after several videos of its enforcers dismantling campaign materials in private properties went viral on social media, with some describing the incidents as "trespassing" and suppression of free speech.

Several former Comelec officials have already said it is illegal to remove materials posted by private citizens, especially if such posters are expressions of their advocacies.

Last week, Romulo Macalintal formally urged the Comelec to temporarily halt the implementation of certain provisions of its Resolution 10730, particularly the basis for the controversial Oplan Baklas.

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