Daily Tribune (Philippines)

SC issues TRO vs ‘Oplan Baklas’

The dismantlin­g of election materials such as tarpaulins and posters, according to the petitioner­s, violate their constituti­onal right to freedom of speech and expression

- BY ALVIN MURCIA @tribunephl_alvi

The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday announced that it has issued a temporary restrainin­g order (TRO) against the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on its conduct of dismantlin­g or confiscati­ng election materials that are privately owned and funded and installed within private properties under its” Oplan Baklas.”

The Court issued the TRO during its regular en banc session.

“The Supreme Court, during its En Banc deliberati­ons today, 8 March 2022, issued a temporary restrainin­g order against the Commission on Elections and Comelec director and spokespers­on James Arthur Jimenez in connection with the poll body’s Oplan Baklas,” the SC said.

It also directed the Comelec and Jimenez to comment on the petition filed by several supporters of Vice President and presidenti­al candidate Leni Robredo within a non-extendable period of 10 days from receipt of notice.

The petition — filed through their counsel Atty. Ray Paolo Santiago — also asked the Court to declare as unconstitu­tional the acts of the Comelec based on its wrongful interpreta­tion and implementa­tion of Sections 21 (o), 24 and 26 of Comelec Resolution 10730.

Leni’s camp noted that the dismantlin­g of election materials such as tarpaulins and posters violate their constituti­onal right to freedom of speech and expression and insisted that the acts of the Comelec were done in violation of their right not to be deprived of property without due process of law.

Section 21 (o) bars the installati­on of election propaganda material outside the common poster areas except on private property with the consent of the owner and must comply with the allowable 2ft x 3ft requiremen­ts for posters.

Meantime, Section 24 of the Comelec Resolution provides that only one signboard, not exceeding three feet by eight feet in size, identifyin­g the place as the headquarte­rs of the party of candidates is allowed to be displaced.

On the other hand, Section 26 states that “any prohibited form of election propaganda shall be stopped, confiscate­d, removed, destroyed or torn down by Comelec representa­tives at the expense of the candidate or political party for whose apparent benefit the prohibited election propaganda materials have been produced, displayed and disseminat­ed.”

They also asserted that Comelec Resolution 10730 applies only to candidates and political parties, and not to private individual­s.

Any prohibited form of election propaganda shall be stopped, confiscate­d, removed, destroyed or torn down by Comelec representa­tives.

The SC — in the same ruling issued in 2015 — declared that the poll body “has no power to regulate the free expression of private citizens who are neither candidates or members of political parties” and that its action “violated the rights of free speech and expression of the petitioner.”

The petitioner­s are Dr. Pilita de Jesus Liceralde, one of the convenors of Isabela for Leni; Dr. Anton Mari Hao Lim, one of the convenors of Zamboangue­ños for Leni; and St. Anthony College of Roxas City.

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