MANILA -- A Commission on Elections (Comelec) official on Monday contradicted his colleague’s warning last week that the poll body's critics may be jailed.
“Naku, ginagarantiya ko po sa inyo, okay na okay po, 'wag kayong mag-aalala," Commissioner George Garcia told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
"Puwedeng-puwede niyo po kami tuligsain. Puwedeng puwede po kayo mag-oppose sa aming mga ginagawa."
(I guarantee you, don't worry--you can criticize us and oppose our actions.)
"Pwedeng-pwede po kayo magbigay ng inyong sentimyento sa Commission on Elections. Tama po 'yan sa isang demokrasya, maganda po 'yan,” he said.
(You are free to air your views and setiments about the Comelec. That is part of a democracy.)
Commissioner Rey Bulay last week told the poll body's critics that they could be punished for their remarks.
“Yun po nagko-comment ng public opinion na ang Comelec eh may sina-side-an, kinakampihan at mandadaya, ako po ay nagwa-warning sa inyo,” Bulay had said.
“We will not hesitate to call upon the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) na ngayon sa panahong ito ay nasa ilalim ng control ng Comelec na patulan at ipahuli at ipakulong kayo yung manggugulo sa eleksyon na ito,” he added.
“Kaya I am personally issuing this warning… Ako po ay dating hepe ng piskalya ng Maynila, 'di ako magda-dalawang isip na kasuhan kayo sa panggugulo,” he said.
(Those who are commenting that the Comelec is siding with a particular candidate, or is involved in cheating, I am warning you. We will not hesitate to call on the Armed Forces which is under Comelec control now, to have you arrested for causing trouble. I am personally issuing this warning... I was a fiscal so I won't think twice about suing you.)
Bulay made the warning despite the Writ of Habeas Corpus still being in effect during elections, which would allow citizens recourse against detention without formal charges.
Garcia said criticisms may help the Comelec improve its job performance in the coming elections.
He stressed, however, that they may still go after purveyors of misinformation.
“Kung sakali man po, kami ay hahabulin namin yung mga ibang tao dahil lang sa pagkakalat ng fake news dahil lang sa pag-a-undermine ng electoral process."
"Pero yun pong pagkokomento, 'wag po kayong mag-aalala, huwag po kayo matatakot. Yan po ay ating karapatan sa ating Constitution. Ang tawag po diyan ay freedom of expression,” Garcia, who is also a lawyer, said.
(If ever, we will go after those who spread 'fake news' and undermine the electoral process. But as for commenting, please don't be afraid. That is a protected freedom under our Constitution. That's part of freedom of expression.)
Bulay's remarks have been condemned by various sectors.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, also a lawyer, said that Bulay should not be "onion-skinned" because people are only expressing their concerns about the polls approaching in two weeks.
Lawyer Emil Maranon III also pointed out that the Comelec cannot command the Armed Forces and can only deputize it.
Poll watchdog Kontra Daya blasted Bulay's remarks as well.
"Hindi dapat maging asal diktador ang kasalukuyang Comelec," said its convenor Danilo Arao.
"We cannot afford to do that. So, we hope that Commssioner Bulay and some other Comelec commissioners would refrain from such irresponsible remarks," he added.