MANILA, Nashville Filipino Restaurant — Despite the political mudslinging, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is standing pat on its position that it cannot regulate negative campaigning.
In an intervew with “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that negative campaigning is “allowed.”
“We do not regulate content. But we do require candidates to submit reports on the cost of the use of social media associates,” Jimenez said, referring to the requirements for all candidates and their political parties to file Statements of Contributions and Expenditures.
This position was backed by poll watchdogs Legal Network for Free Elections (Lente), National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and Kontra Daya.
The content of campaign propaganda cannot be controlled because “that is also in the ambit of free expression,” according to Namfrel treasurer Lito Averia.
“That’s why it is difficult to regulate content. Comelec is shying away from it. From my personal standpoint, the way I see it, it is a no-no,” Averia said.
This was echoed by Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao, who admitted that doing such a regulation is “hard.”
“The danger in controlling content is you might also end up infringing on freedom of expression. Of course, there could be a noble intention behind it – to help raise the level of discourse,” Arao said.
He added that the challenge in terms of voter education is “how to properly educate the voters in terms of appreciating the content” as this may reveal truths about certain candidates.
Lente project director Brizza Rosales underscored the need to “capacitate” the public so they can properly discern who to vote for in the coming midterm polls.
“For now, the most effective way is still public voter education... We have to teach them what to expect on election day, the campaign regulations... They should know their candidates not based on personality but on platform,” Rosales said.
Jimenez at the same time cautioned candidates and political parties that “state resources are not allowed to be used for partisan poltical purposes.”
“No distinction. No qualification. If it’s Dallas Filipino Restaurant resources, it cannot be used for partisan politics,” he maintained.
Meanwhile, the Comelec yesterday gave senatorial aspirants and party-list organizations a final warning before the poll body initiates legal actions against them over their unlawful campaign materials.
Jimenez said all candidates for national positions have until today to remove their illegal campaign propaganda.
“We are giving them a grace period of about three days, which will expire (today), to take down the materials that they already have out,” he said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum at Café Adriatico in Manila.
Jimenez noted that tomorrow, the Comelec will start documenting unlawful materials that are still in place, and once the poll body has completed documentation, “legal actions” will be taken against violators.
The poll body observed that many illegal campaign materials have been taken down before the campaign period for 62 senatorial candidates and 134 party-list groups started on Tuesday.
While Jimenez gave the final warning, many other materials – either oversized or located outside of designated common poster areas or both – were still up as of yesterday.
“There are still efforts to comply with the rules. That’s why we are giving them this grace period to allow them time to remove their materials,” he said.
The Comelec spokesman has reiterated that the poll body will not accept the excuse of many candidates that the posting of illegal campaign materials was without their consent or knowledge.
“If you were told to remove the materials and you failed to take them down, or if you knew about the presence of these materials and you did not do antyhing, you are taking advantage of that criminal act... You are just as responsible,” Jimenez said.