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SC: Election body can’t take posters off private areas

Darwin G. Amojelar & Rey E. Requejo

The Supreme Court en banc has ruled that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is not allowed to remove campaign materials within private properties.

The High Court granted the petition for certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus filed by St. Anthony College of Roxas City, Inc. against the poll body after their tarpaulins, posters, murals, and other materials expressing support for former Vice President Leni Robredo were confiscated and destroyed.

“The Comelec’s implementation of Oplan Baklas against St. Anthony et al. is unconstitutional as it exceeded the bounds of permissible regulation under Republic Act 9006 (Fair Election Act) and Comelec Resolution No. 10730,” the court said.

“The Comelec also violated the property rights of St. Anthony College, as there was no legal basis for the Comelec’s entry into their private property and removal and destruction of their privately-owned campaign materials.”

Comelec is mandated to regulate election propaganda, but it is notallowed to regulate the political speech of private persons on private property, the Supreme Court said.

“The best intentions cannot justify impermissible infringements on constitutional rights,” the court said.

Comelec chairman George Garcia said the poll body is not removing campaign materials within private properties.

“Private ownership and its free exercise is constitutionally guaranteed. It’s good to know that the Supreme Court is allowing Oplan Baklas as against candidates and political parties. This pronouncement strengthened our mandate,” Garcia said.

As this developed, the Supreme Court on Tuesday also ruled there was no more legal impediment to the holding of the synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections on Monday, Oct. 30.

In an en banc resolution, the SC declared final its June decision which declared as unconstitutional the law that postponed the Dec. 5, 2022 BSKE.

It also affirmed with finality the legal practicality and necessity ofproceeding with the BSKE next week.

The resolution penned by Associate Justice Antonio Kho Jr. denied withfinality the motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor General.

“The sitting BSK officials shall continue to hold office until their successor shall have been elected and qualified. But the term of office of the sitting BSK officials shall be deemed to have ended on Dec. 31, 2022 consistent with the provisions of RA 11462,” the high tribunal added.

The SC also held that succeeding synchronized BSKE shall be held pursuant to the provisions of RA 11462, that is, “on the first Monday of December 2025 and every three years thereafter.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Information and Communications Technology on Tuesday assured the public that the 2016 incident of voters’ data leak will not happen again during the BSKE amid the recent hacking of government agencies’ systems.

Renato Paraiso, DICT spokesperson, said the department is set to sign a memorandum of agreement with Comelec for the publication of the precinct finder for the 2023 BSKE on the poll body’s website.

“We are just awaiting the signature of the Secretary, but basically everything is in place. We would be providing technical assistance and support to the Comelec when it comes to the precinct finder,” Paraiso said.

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