Lawyer to Comelec: Err on side of right

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Suspend your confiscation of oversized campaign posters, election lawyer Romy Macalintal wrote the Comelec Monday. In tearing those down from private houses last week, the poll body has antagonized voters. Targeted were campaign volunteer centers of leading non-administration presidential aspirant Leni Robredo. Untouched were those of Bongbong Marcos and running mate Sara Duterte. Suspicion is growing that the Comelec is biased for the latter. More so since the four commissioners, left after three others retired, had upheld Marcos’ candidacy despite ineligibility for perjury and tax evasion.

The Comelec’s size limit on billboards, streamers and stickers pertains only to public spaces, especially common poster areas. No plaza can accommodate the posters of all ten bets for president, nine for VP, 64 for senator, 165 for party-list and soon hundreds more for governor, mayor, provincial board member and councilor. Thus, the need to cap public postering.

It’s wrong for Comelec to impose limits on posters in private spaces that owners voluntarily put up. If the Comelec must err, let it be on the side of right. Specifically, the Bill of Rights, Macalintal told Sapol dwIZ on Saturday.

Postering is free expression, and no law, much less a Comelec rule, can abridge that. The Constitution in Article III further guarantees security in one’s home, papers and effects “against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose.” The property may not be entered without a court warrant, and the poster taken without due process of law. There shall be no presumption of guilt.

The Comelec also misinterpreted the Supreme Court jurisprudence on poster size limit, Macalintal said. When the agency in 2015 tore down a huge poster in the Bacolod Cathedral courtyard, he counseled the bishop to seek redress. The poster enumerated senatorial candidates for and against reproductive health, therefore to vote for or not. The SC ruled that Comelec was wrong to tear it down since it was in private premises. Now the Comelec narrowly reads that ruling to pertain only to “advocacies” and only to that incident.

No portion of the SC decision states that it was solely for the Bacolod Cathedral, Macalintal said. “Again I hope that the Comelec errs on the side of the Bill of Rights, not on its curtailment.”

As for “advocacies,” a poster in a private property urging to vote or not for any candidate is an expression of the owner’s stand on issues. “It reflects the property owner’s advocacies,” Macalintal explained.

Macalintal also cited the 1992 SC ruling on “Adiong vs Comelec,” in which he served as counsel. That verdict upheld voters’ right to install campaign stickers of senatorial candidate Blo Umpar Adiong on their private vehicles. Stricken down was the Comelec’s rule against mobile campaign posters by ordinary voters. “When a voter posts such campaign material, he is expressing his own advocacy because the candidate’s advocacy and that of his supporters are indivisible,” Macalintal recounted. “It is fair to say that one’s choice of candidate represents one’s own advocacy.”

An election specialist for more than 50 years, Macalintal is one of Robredo’s campaign lawyers. He ran but lost in the 2019 senatorial race.

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