Campaign posters exceeding the required size will be removed even if it is inside private property and installed with the consent of the property owner, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) said last week.
In an interview with the Tribune, Acting Virac election officer Atty. Maico Julia Jr., however, clarified that even if the COMELEC is motu proprio empowered to remove such outsized posters, it would be much better for the authorities to follow due process in the removal of illegal campaign posters.
He said that it will first make a personal appeal to the owner to voluntarily remove the poster and replace it with posters no bigger than 2’ x 3’ as prescribed by Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Act.
In case of non-compliance, the election office will send a formal notice to the property owner, who could face a criminal charge for violation of the Omnibus Election Code.
In Resolution No. 10730 issued last November 2021, any violation of the Fair Election Act and the rules set in the resolution shall constitute an election offense punishable under Section 264 of the OEC.
That same provision states that anyone found guilty of any election offense shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one (1) year but not more than six (6) years and shall not be subject to probation.
In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage, it says.
On the other hand, any political party found guilty shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than P10,000.00, which shall be imposed upon such party after criminal action has been instituted in which their corresponding officials have been found guilty.
Sharing his personal opinion, the Virac acting election officer said he thinks the law on the size of the campaign poster does not apply to those installed in private places by the owner themselves since it is done in theexercise of their freedom of expression.
Atty. Julia also opined that the removal of illegal campaign material should be done carefully and as much as possible avoid tearing up the poster since it remains private property and would be injurious to the dignity of the affected candidate.
The former Naga City election officer clarified that it would be difficult to expand the coverage of the Operation Baklas outside main thoroughfares or into the barangays due to the voluminous workload of the agencies involved in the activity.
On the possibility that the barangay officials could be tapped to handle the removal of illegal campaign materials within their jurisdiction, he said that barangay officials are generally hesitant of doing so for fear of incurring the ire of local politicians.
Under Res. No. 10730, “any prohibited form of election propaganda prohibited form of election propaganda shall be stopped, confiscated, removed, destroyed, or torn down by COMELEC representatives, at the expense of the candidate or political party for whose apparent benefit the prohibited election propaganda materials have been produced, displayed, and disseminated.”
A task force has been created by COMELEC in each city and municipality, to tear down and remove all unlawful election materials composed of the Election Officer as chairman, the Chief of Police of the Philippine National Police (PNP) as vice chairman, and a representative from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as member.
Lawful campaign materials are supposed to be posted only in authorized common poster areas in public places as well as in private property, provided the posting has the consent of the owner and the applicable provisions as to size is concerned.
Election propaganda is prohibited in publicly owned electronic announcement boards, motor vehicles owned by the government, public transport vehicles controlled by the government, and public infrastructures such as waiting sheds, sidewalks, street and lamp posts, electric posts and electric posts and wires, traffic signages and other signboards erected on public property, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses, flyovers and underpasses, bridges, main thoroughfares, center islands of roads and highways.
It is likewise prohibited in schools, public shrines, barangay halls, government offices, health centers, public structures and buildings or any edifice thereof, and within the premises of public transport terminals, owned and controlled by the government, such as bus terminals, airports and piers.
In Virac, the designated common poster areas are mostly public plazas and barangay center compounds.