Freedom of speech, right to vote must be balanced, says election watchdog

Mico Abarro, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 19 2022 09:31 AM

MANILA—An election watchdog on Saturday said it was important to balance freedom of speech with equal access and the right to suffrage when it came to the issue of campaign posters put up on private properties. 

Although the move by the Commission on Elections to dismantle campaign paraphernalia on private properties received public backlash, the Comelec was probably concerned over candidates circumventing laws on campaign spending limits, said Atty. Carlo Africa, policy consultant at Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE).

"Kasi marami nagpo-post, hindi tayo sigurado kung ilan sa kanila ang connected sa kandidato, ilan sa kanila ang mga kandidatong nagbabayad para sa kanilang mga poster," Africa said in an interview on TeleRadyo.

Africa added there was already jurisprudence regarding the matter in the case of Diocese of Bacolod v. Comelec, where it was shown that the Comelec had the power to regulate speech amounting to election paraphernalia. 

"Sabi po doon [in Diocese of Bacolod v. Comelec] mahirap po if we take absolutes in the doctrine of freedom of speech," Africa said. 

"Sabi din kase doon you have to take the entire context into consideration. ’Yung context po kase dito, hindi lang freedom of speech versus the right to equal access but andiyan din ’yung right of suffrage. Part of suffrage is the right to vote and the right to public office."

Africa added that the right to freedom of speech had to be balanced with the right to information.

"If we have a situation wherein only the financially capable are able to flood and drown all other campaign materials, mawawalan ’yung right to information ng ating mga mamamayan on who they want to vote for," he said. 

"If wala tayong right to information, pare-pareho tumatakbo, and walang campaign spending limits, mahihihrapan tayong magkaroon ng genuine elections." 

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