Comelec under fire for ‘illegal’ tarpaulin removal

Just eight days after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) opened the campaign period for candidates running for national elections, the commission conducted a widespread “Oplan Baklas” or removal of political tarpaulins and signages which it said have violated the poll body’s set of rules.

On Wednesday, Comelec personnel with help from some members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Bureau of Fire Protection started removing campaign paraphernalia in different areas of the country.

However, the activity was received with criticisms and flak after one group removed the tarpaulins of presidential candidate Vice President Leni Rebrado and her running mate, Senator Francis Pangilinan, that were hung inside the team’s volunteers-media center in Santiago, Isabela that is located inside a private property.

The next day, the Comelec team also hit on another Robredo campaign paraphernalia in Echague, Isabela but this time, it was a huge pink mural painted on private premises by private volunteers.

From pink, which is Robredo’s political color, the Comelec team re-painted the mural with white.

Barry Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Robredo, said they are looking at filing a case against Comelec and those behind the removal of tarpaulins for alleged violation of their “freedom of expression.”

Gutierrez said the campaign paraphernalia were posted inside a private property so “the right to action currently belongs with the people directly affected.”

“After all, it’s their private property, they are private persons, they are not connected to the campaign. If needed, we are looking into the possibility of filing the right case to clarify the rule on this issue,” he said.

Pangilinan added his camp will stand by their supporters as they consider pursuing legal action against the Comelec.

“They are paying for our campaign materials straight from their own pockets and hang these up on their own homes to convince other people to support us,” he said.

Rep. Neri Colmenares, who is running for senator, criticized the Commission for removing the tarps “without due process.”

“The essence of these regulations allows the marginalized to participate in the most important
democratic exercise in our country so that the people may elect deserving leaders. But Comelec’s recent Oplan Baklas runs counter to what our regulations ought to be. Instead of letting people express their

support, Comelec has overreached through the takedown of campaign materials in private properties without due process,” Colmenares said.

Former Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon, who retired early this month, reminded her former colleagues at the commission that they cannot remove tarpaulins displayed in private properties.

Guanzon cited the case of the Diocese of Bacolod against the Comelec in 2015 where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the church.

In the 2015 case, Comelec ordered for the removal of the diocese’s “Team Patay, Team Buhay”

The Supreme Court’s decision on the case read: “Freedom of expression can be intimately related with the right to property. There may be no expression when there is no place where the expression may be made. Comelec’s infringement upon petitioners’ property rights as in the present case also reaches out to infringement on their fundamental right to speech.”

Guanzon said based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, Comelec cannot remove posters on private property.

“It is time for Comelec to review that resolution. If they enter private property without permission, then it is trespassing,” she said.

James Jimenez, spokesperson for Comelec, said anyone is free to file his or her complaints with the Comelec.

“While anyone with a grievance in connection with the Comelec’s exercise of its duties is free to seek recourse with the courts, it could be helpful if they were to file formal complaints with the Comelec itself specifying the time and place of the alleged violations,” he said.

Jimenez clarified that the Comelec team asked for permission from owners before they took down the tarpaulins and posters.

Brig. Gen. Roderick Augustus Alba of the PNP Public Information Office (PIO) assured that the PNP’s Internal Service Affairs will work to determine any administrative liability on the part of the police personnel involved in “Oplan Baklas.”

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