Comelec warns candidates: COVID-19 violations in sorties are election offenses

Comelec warns candidates: COVID-19 violations in sorties are election offenses
Philippine military and police personnel man a checkpoint along a road in San Juan city, suburban Manila on Feb. 7, 2022, on the eve of the official start of campaigning for the May 2022 elections.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Election urged candidates in the 2022 election to police their supporters after it observed violations of minimum public health standards at the official campaign sorties. 

In a statement, the Comelec reminded candidates that violations of the guidelines are classified either as an election offense or as a violation of the minimum public health standards. 

"It has been brought to our attention that several campaign sorties conducted since the campaign period have not been compliant with the mandatory face mask and face shield policy, as well as the strict physical distancing requirements," Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said. 

"In case the candidates need reminding, they are responsible for the safety of their staff and supporters and that the guidelines on physical campaigning are strictly followed — that is their lookout."

Comelec Resolution No. 10732 sets rules in conducting physical campaigns, rallies, meetings, and other related activities. Minimum public health standards must be observed at all times in election campaign activities that involve physical or personal interaction, the Comelec said.

All persons participating in activities "in any capacity" are also required to wear full-coverage face shields together with face masks, the Comelec said. 

The prohibited acts under the in-person activities include:

  • entering private dwellings for house-to-house campaigning even with the owner’s permission
  • crowding
  • handshaking or other forms of physical contact
  • taking selfies or photographs that require close proximity among people
  • distributing of food and drinks

"The Comelec reiterates that violations of the physical campaign guidelines are being strictly monitored by the respective campaign committees in every locality," Jimenez also said. 

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In a statement, the campaign team of Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno said that the presidential bet was often "mobbed by droves of people...screaming and cheering while jostling for position in the crowded streets just to express their full support behind him."

Moreno's campaign team also released photos of the presidential candidate shaking hands with supporters despite Comelec rules banning physical contact with election candidates.

Vice President Leni Robredo earlier also apologized after the Quezon City government expressed concern after more than 20,000 people came out to see her at the Quezon City Memorial Circle for Robredo's "Pink Sunday" event. The local government said the crowd violated protocols. 

"We acknowledge the concerns of the Quezon City Government, extend our thanks for its vigilance, and take full responsibility," her spokesperson, lawyer Barry Gutierrez said.

"While the organizers ensured that access to the immediate vicinity of the program proper was limited, and that all attendees were advised to bring vaccination cards and observe health protocols, the sheer number of people that arrived was a challenge, for which we apologize."

In a separate statement, the tandem of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte shifted the responsibility to supporters, urging them to comply with the official guidelines set by the Comelec.

"We are reminding everyone that we are still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic. For everyone's safety and well-being, we are urging our supporters all over the country to abide by the rules and restrictions set by the Comelec," they said.

Police Gen. Dionardo Carlos, PNP chief, said in a separate statement that with the kick-off of the campaign rallies for national candidates, the PNP also observed that supporters have been gathering in chosen venues. 

He pointed to the election activities in arguing that it was too early to shift back to Alert Level 1. 

“Downgrading to the most lenient, Alert Level 1, can lead to complacency. It is practical to impose enough restrictions so the public will still be bound to adhere to stricter health protocol,” he said. "The PNP considers this time to practice disciplining the public."

Franco Luna with reports from Kristine Joy Patag 

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