By Leslie Aquino and Vanne Terrazola
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday warned candidates that they will be prosecuted should they be found to have violated election laws.
The warning was issued as two Comelec teams have started documenting the unlawful campaign materials of senators and partylist groups running in the May 13 midterm polls Friday.
“If warranted, a criminal complaint will be filed for election offense. The election offense is violation of Republic Act 9006 (Fair Election Act) and its implementing rules in Comelec Resolution No. 10488, the penalty of which will be imprisonment of up to six years, a fine, and disqualification from holding office,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said.
Jimenez said the purpose of the documentation is to establish the violations that are taking place.
“I know a lot of people are already frustrated because for a long time these were not being called out. We cannot do something about it before because it was still allowed then… now that it’s no longer allowed, we will do something to have these materials removed,” he said in a forum in Manila, Friday.
“We will take pictures of these materials and then we will document it. If you noticed we also started posting pictures in our social accounts of materials that are out of place or oversized posters which we accompany with a newspaper headline as proof that it was taken today,” said Jimenez.
He said the Comelec will then write a letter informing the candidate of the violation and then take down the material.
“As soon as we documented the material, we take it down to minimize its effect on the electorate,” Jimenez said.
Among the oversized campaign posters that the Comelec monitored were that of Buhay Party-list and senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino, Jimenez said.
Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon also bared the names of senatorial candidates who were found to have illegal campaign posters, a day after the grace period given for their removal lapsed.
Guanzon went to Twitter to post a list of 40 candidates with possible elections offense.
The list includes Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel and fellow reelectionist Sens. Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, Grace Poe, and Cynthia Villar. Also in the list are other administration and opposition bets, as well as independent candidates.
Campaign posters of senatorial candidate Mar Roxas were also seen illegally installed in electric wires and lamp posts along EDSA in Caloocan City.
Section 7 of Resolution No. 10488 states that posting election propaganda outside of common poster areas, public places, or private property without owner consent is unlawful during the campaign period.
The campaign period for national candidates started February 12.
Test case still pending
According to Jimenez, the Comelec already has a test case in previous elections involving a local candidate. But it remains pending before the Pasay regional trial court.
“We have a test case and we are looking forward to filing more cases after today,” he said.
Reacting to the Guanzon’s revelation, Pimentel said it is “most unlikely” that he will have illegal campaign materials posted.
He also asked the poll body to pinpoint the locations so he could order their removal if proven true.
“I have very few posters. Hence, most unlikely ‘yan. But saan daw located para ma-check namin and if true ma-baklas na (Where are they locate so we could check and take them down),” Pimentel told reporters in a text message Friday.
“We have many supporters, hence, hindi namin memorized all locations of posters they have put up. Hence, Comelec should tell us where,” he added.
Pimentel appealed to his campaign staff and supporters to heed election rules and regulations.
“Our general instruction to all campaign staff volunteers, as well as all supporters, is to FOLLOW THE LAW,” he stressed.
Binay, for her part, said she was surprised to learn of her inclusion in the list of violators, saying her camp has yet to release campaign materials.
“Medyo nagulat din ako sa balita tungkol dun sa illegal posters daw (I was surprised with the reports about the illegal posters). I’m not sure where the reports are coming from, but as far as I’m concerned, wala pa kaming tarps o kahit posters na inilalabas (we have not yet released tarpaulins and even posters),” she said in a statement sent to reporters.
“Ako pa nga ang unang umapela sa social media sa mga kandidato (I am, in fact, the one who has been appealing to my fellow candidates) to comply with the Comelec rules, and for them to take down posters that don’t conform with the allowed sizes,” she added.
Binay likewise urged the Comelec to conduct an extensive information drive regarding campaign “dos and don’ts,” and to come up with a list or directory of designated common poster areas in every barangay, municipality, and city to serve as a reference and guide for candidates and their supporters.
Other senators have yet to comment on the Comelec and Guanzon list of violators. #MatalinongBoto2019