Manila Bulletin : Election lawyer: Comelec’s permit requirement is ‘causing confusion’

13 February 2022

By Jel Santos | Manila Bulletin

The guidelines of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) under its Resolution No. 10732 or the campaign rules amid the COVID-19 pandemic is causing confusion among the electorate, poll lawyer Romulo B. Macalintal said on Sunday, Feb. 13.

“While the said ‘Guidelines’ do not include non-candidates who want to hold their own political activities, the Comelec still requires them to first get Comelec’s approval before they could get a mayor’s permit to conduct the said activities,” he pointed out.

He claimed that such is “a violation of Comelec’s own ‘Guidelines’ because under Section 22 of Resolution No. 10732, only a ‘candidate’ or a ‘political party’ or through their respective authorized representatives may apply before the Comelec for approval of the conduct of any election campaign activity.”

Macalintal noted that nothing in the said resolution that requires non-candidates conducting such activities to get prior approval from Comelec.

Such “Guidelines”, according to the poll lawyer, have suddenly become arbitrary restrictions imposed by Comelec “without any basis in law and in fact.”

“This is a flagrant violation of Section 87 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) and Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act which give sole authority to the mayors to issue such permit. Nothing in the law gives the Comelec to interfere in the issuance of such permit,” he said.

With this, Macalintal said any private citizen or non-candidate or groups of non-candidates should question any move or action by any agencies of the government prohibiting them from exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and their right to freedom of expression.

“They do not need any ‘prior approval’ from the Comelec to stage and conduct their own political rallies before they could secure a mayor’s permit. To require them to get ‘prior approval’ from the Comelec would constitute prior censorship or prior restraint which is violative of a private citizen’s constitutional right to free speech,” the election lawyer stressed.

Citing that the Supreme Court held in the 2015 case of the Diocese of Bacolod vs Comelec, Malacalintal said that “the Comelec does not have the authority to regulate the enjoyment of the preferred right to freedom of expression exercised by a non-candidate in this case.”

Meanwhile during an online forum on Sunday, Feb. 13, Comelec Spokesperson James B. Jimenez said the rules set by the poll body during the COVID-19 is for the safety of the electorate.

“Ang Comelec ay naglabas ng rules para sa safety ng mga tao sa panahon ng kampanya at pandemya (The Comelec release rules for the safety of the public during the campaign amidst the pandemic),” he said in the forum which was aired live on the Facebook page of Balitaan sa Maynila.

So far, many candidates and their campaigns have been compliant with rules of the poll body, he said.