MANILA — Supporters of Vice President Leni Robredo this week reported the takedown of tarpaulins promoting her presidential candidacy from their homes, which some argued was unconstitutional.
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said on Thursday the Commission on Elections and the Philippine National Police cannot remove campaign materials from private property without prior notice and hearing.
"Di pwedeng pumasok ang COMELEC o PNP sa inyong mga bahay, opisina o anumang private property na walang search warrant galing sa isang judge kung wala kayong pahintulot o consent," said Diokno, who is running for senator under Robredo's slate.
(The Comelec pr the PNP cannot enter your house, office or any private property without a search warrant from a judge if you do not give your consent.)
Diokno is the founding Dean of the De La Salle College of Law.
Veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said, "Nananawagan ako sa lahat ng mamamayan natin, ipaglaban po ninyo ang inyong karapatan."
(I am appealing to all our citizens, fight for your right.)
If authorities insist on entering a private property without a warrant, consent, and prior notice and hearing, one can file civil, administrative and criminal cases against them, Diokno said on Twitter.
"Kung talagang ipipilit, ‘wag lumaban," said Robredo's spokesman Barry Gutierrez, who is also a lawyer. "Wala ka namang magagawa. Pero i-document para kung sakali mang kailangang magsampa ng kaso later on... meron kang pinanghahawakang ebidensya."
"Klaro kung sino ‘yung taong gumawa, klaro kung merong video kung ano ‘yung actual na nangyari. Klaro na nag-register ng objection at sa kabila ng lahat na iyon, tinuloy pa rin," he said in a press conference with Macalintal.
(If they insist, do not resist. You cannot do anything. But document this so that if a case needs to be filed later on, you have evidence. It will be clear who did this, if there is a video of what actually happened. It will be clear that you registered your objection and despite that, they still did it.)
Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), said supporter-lawyers are ready to help other volunteers whose campaign materials are taken down.
WHAT COMELEC SAYS
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.
But whether or not the materials comply with the authorized 2 ft. x 3 ft. size, Comelec personnel cannot enter private properties to remove those, the assistant regional director of Comelec - National Capital Region said Wednesday, even as he clarified that any oversized item could really subject for removal.
"Hindi po puwede ang Comelec, as a general rule, pumasok sa mga private properties. Whether the material is illegal or unlawful because of those reasons that I mentioned, hindi pa rin puwede (pumasok) because we respect the privacy of persons. So, hindi pwedeng pasukin," Jovencio Balanquit, who also serves as spokesman for Comelec-NCR, told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
"'Pag ganun ang mangyayari na nasa loob pero very oversized, ang gagawin ni Comelec is to notify, to send notice for the removal. 'Pag hindi pa rin niya tinanggal, then we will take probably the next step, which could be the submission to the appropriate department in the commission for appropriate legal action, kasi hindi niya sinusunod eh. But never that we will enter the property to remove the campaign material," he added.
"The act of removing it (oversized material) could be summarily done, or ito yung summary abatement natin, if it is in public places - nasa punong kahoy, nasa poste. Pero if it is inside a private property, including a headquarter for instance, basic 'no, kahit naman saan eh, magpaalam ka sa may-ari bago mo pasukin 'yan. Otherwise, we will take actions, we will notify you or send a notice for you to remove it. Then, 'pag hindi mo pa rin tinanggal, well, that could be the time for the Comelec to take legal actions."
Echoing Jimenez, the Comelec-main spokesman, Balanquit said those who feel aggrieved should file a complaint.
"I think, meron naman siguro silang consultants that they could seek advice naman 'no kung merong ganung incidents. Hindi ko na sila pangungunahan... They could always report or complain the incident. Initially, puwede silang sa election officer mag-complain," Balanquit said.
Gutierrez said the possibility of filing an appropriate case, if needed, is being studied so that the rule on this issue could be clarified.