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Comelec not allowed to remove privately-owned campaign materials on private property — SC

MANILA, Philippines — Privately-owned campaign materials cannot be removed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) if it is displayed on a private property, the Supreme Court (SC) said on Tuesday.

The court cited the ruling in the case of St. Anthony College of Roxas City Inc. vs. Comelec wherein the election regulatory body confiscated and destroyed the campaign materials posted on private property pursuant to “Oplan Baklas.”

“While Comelec may validly implement ‘Oplan Baklas’ against candidates and political parties, it cannot implement ‘Oplan Baklas’ against private individuals expressing their political preferences or support for a candidate or political party,” the court said. 

St. Anthony College possessed and shared ownership of campaign materials such as tarpaulins, posters, murals and other items exhibited on their properties during the 2022 election season.

The said materials conveyed support and sought votes for former Vice President Leni Robredo, a presidential candidate in the May 9, 2022 national and local elections.

SC further stressed that the poll body cannot implement “Oplan Baklas” against private individuals expressing their political preferences or support to a candidate.

“The Court emphasized that it ‘has always protected political speech as one of the most important expressions guaranteed by the Constitution, and freedom of speech and expression is at the core of civil liberties and must be protected at all costs for the sake of democracy,’ “ the court added. 

Oplan Baklas for the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) spans from October 20 to 27 and includes the removal of all incorrectly sized campaign materials, including billboards, tarpaulins, and individual posters exceeding two by three feet in common poster areas.

The campaign season for the BSKE started on October 19 and will end on October 28.