Pinoys affected by Comelec’s ‘Operation Baklas’ may file class suit

Published February 17, 2022, 11:56 AM

by Raymund Antonio

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said on Thursday, Feb. 17, that candidates for the May 2022 polls can file a class suit against the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to stop the “unconstitutional” removal of candidates’ posters and tarpaulins from private properties.

The camp of Presidential aspirant Vice President Leni Robredo through lawyers Romulo Macalintal and Barry Gutierez holds a press conference on the controversial ‘Operation Baklas’ of the Comelec, specifically removing alleged oversized campaign posters posted by non-candidates in their private properties. (Noel B. Pabalate /MANILA BULLETIN)

Private individuals whose constitutional rights to freedom of expression were trampled upon when authorities removed the campaign materials from their private properties without a warrant can file a class-action suit before the Supreme Court so other parties can join.

The High Court can issue a temporary restraining order on Comelec Resolution No. 10730 that the poll body argued allows them to take down campaign materials even from private properties so long as the materials do not comply with the size regulations and if they are in non-designated posting areas.

“Yes, pwede na mag file (they can file) before the Supreme Court. They were affected by the implementation by the resolution of Comelec and also to protect the rights and interests of those people who might be similarly situated,” Macalintal said during a media briefing at the Leni-Kiko Volunteer Center in Quezon City.

“(It can be a) class suit before Supreme Court para (so) other parties makasama na. Hindi lang si Robredo. Lahat na sila pu-pwede sila sumama para ‘yang bagay na ‘yan ma-thresh out agad sa Comelec (can join. Not only Robredo. They can all join so this thing can be threshed out in the Comelec). I just don’t know if sasama sila (if they will join),” he added.

Videos and photos of authorities taking down campaign materials spread on social media. In particular, Robredo’s supporters in Isabela showed the police helping in the removal of posters and tarpaulins from their volunteer center there.

READ: Comelec launches ‘Operation Baklas’

One video even showed authorities inside the private property removing a streamer with Robredo’s image.

Similarly, personnel from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) took down posters and tarpaulins from the Leni-Kiko Volunteer Center in Quezon City.

Another video showed them taking down former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s posters, though some volunteers complained that their materials of Robredo are being singled out.

“Pumapasok sila sa property ng tao nang walang pahintulot (They are entering the property without permission). They will be directed to remove. Nasaan ang authority nila (Where is there authority)?,” Macalintal asked.

“Magisip-isip naman kayo mga Comelec (Think, Comelec),” he said, adding that the poll body should focus on the “printing of ballots, delivery of materials, clustering of precincts, and cleansing the voter’s list” rather than on the campaign materials.

He stressed that the poll body has no power to remove poll materials posted by non-candidates on their private properties without notice and hearing or without giving them the opportunity to be heard.

READ: Robredo camp reminds Comelec of citizens’ free speech in the removal of campaign materials

“It is very arbitrary and a clear case of abuse of power and discretion and a violation of one’s Constitutional right to property,” the lawyer argued, adding that a person’s right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution.

Macalintal said that Section 9 of RA No. 9006 pertaining to the power of the Comelec to regulate the posting of campaign materials “only apply to candidates and political parties” as held by the Supreme Court in the 2015 case of Diocese of Bacolod vs Comelec.

Supporters “should refuse entry” and “exercise their rights” when authorities try to take down campaign materials from their private properties.

“Ipaglaban po ninyo ang inyong karapatan. Kasi kung hindi nyo ipaglalaban ang inyong karapatan, ay wala ng makikipag-laban para sa inyo. Kung di kayo sisigaw, di kayo magsasalita, eh walang mangyayari (Fight for your rights. Because if you will not fight for your rights, no one will fight for you. If you are not going to shout, if you are not going to speak up, nothing will happen),” Macalintal said.