The camp of presidential bet Leni Robredo may sue the Commission on Elections (Comelec) after the poll body’s ‘Operation Baklas’ resulted in the removal of their campaign paraphernalia from private properties of supporters.
Baklas is the Pilipino word for dismantle and the Comelec has been empowered to instruct the Philippine National Police (PNP) to remove campaign materials that do not conform to allowed sizes, or placed in areas not allowed by election laws.
Legal groups, however, said that entering and removing materials from private properties like residences and buildings is not only illegal, but possibly unconstitutional.
Robredo followers, meanwhile, pointed out that only materials of their candidate have been removed, while tarpaulins and posters for the Marcos/Duterte tandem have been left untouched.
After photos and videos posted online showed policemen in the province of Isabela dismantling or painting over Robredo campaign materials, the Lawyers for Leni group threatened to file trespassing and destruction to property charges against the PNP team involved in the questionable act.
In another instance, policemen also painted over a mural previously made by a group of young volunteers with the consent of the homeowner. The wall painting by a group calling themselves “Isabela Para Kay Leni-Kiko” supported the candidacies of Leni Robredo and Kiko Pangilinan.
They said their mural was located in a private residence and was created earlier this month.
The cops apologized and said they had not been given clear rules about the removal of materials. They asked for forgiveness from the lawyers’ group, adding that they were only “following orders” from their superiors.
They also said that the removals were done with “permission” from the owners of the private properties.
Recently retired Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said that the action of the PNP team in entering private property where no crime was being committed is tantamount to trespassing.
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal and Sen. Leila de Lima said the owners of the private property “invaded” by the PNP team under Comelec control had every right to express their election views via the materials displayed in their property and made publicly accessible.
According to de Lima, “The right of citizens to express their electoral preferences through material posted, hung or otherwise set up on their own property and made visible publicly is protected speech.
It cannot be subjected to Comelec regulation legally without violating the constitutional proscription against prior restraint.”
De Lima was a former Justice secretary who has been detained for the last five years. She is running for re-election under the Robredo-Pangilinan ticket.
For his part, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution and cited by critics of Oplan Baklas “is not absolute.”
PNP chief Gen.
Dionardo Carlos said over the weekend that he would punish the policemen found to be violating the rules and regulations when conducting Oplan Baklas. But first, he said he would wait for the results of an investigation following the complaints filed against the PNP.
But in the meantime, Carlos said they have to wait for the ongoing investigation to determine the veracity of the complaints that policemen were among those who removed the tarpaulins even inside private properties.
The independence and objectivity of the Comelec was also called into question after it was noted that the entrance of the poll body’s headquarters in the capital city of Manila was bathed in green and red lights, the colors of the Marcos/Duterte tandem.
The Comelec said that they were only tenants in the building, the Palacio del Gobernador, which is under the management of the Office of the President.
After this was raised over social media, the Comelec promised to change the lighting to more neutral colors.
Countless homes, schools, and privately-owned buildings have been bathed in the Robredo campaign’s color of pink. As of this writing, the Lawyers for Leni have not decided if they will pursue a case against the Comelec and the PNP team that destroyed their collateral.