[OPINION] Campaign posters: What's illegal, what's not?

 

This quickly fizzled out, however, when a commissioner published a list of 40 candidates with “illegal” posters, and it did not contain the names of two people whom everyone expected to be there: administration bets Bong Go and Bato de la Rosa. Their tarpaulins can be found all over Metro Manila, and in fact across the country. 

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism recently reported that President Rodrigo Duterte’s close aide had already spent P422 million on political advertisements even before the campaign period started on February 12. That amount was already almost triple the P150 million allowable campaign expense cap set by the law for national candidates. (READ: Political ads of top spenders worth more than their declared wealth

Perhaps irked by the fact that she was on the Comelec list and Bong Go wasn't, reelectionist Senator Nancy Binay threw a major shade toward Intramuros. She tweeted: “Kaduda-duda ang listahan na inilabas ng Comelec dahil wala akong campaign posters. Kung sino pa 'yung mukhang nagkalat sa buong Pilipinas, 'yun pa ang wala sa listahan.” 

(The Comelec's list is suspicious because I don't even have campaign posters. Yet the one whose face is all over the Philippines, he's not on the list.) 

In its defense, the Comelec explained that the “name and shame” list only covered candidates with “addresses within the area of jurisdiction of the NCR Regional Office” and excluded those whose mailing addresses were outside Metro Manila like Go. It made sense, but unfortunately the fire spread too fast and rebuke irreversibly reverberated on social media, accusing the poll body of bias toward the administration bets. 

What is the proper size of campaign posters? The Omnibus Election Code, as amended by Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Elections Act, prescribes the rules on campaigning. 

Let us starts with the meaning of “illegal” posters. Posters or campaign materials become illegal when they are bigger than the size prescribed by law or, even when they are of the right size, when they are posted at a prohibited place.

Campaign materials are illegal when they are:

As to the size, the rule of thumb in the Fair Elections Actis that no campaign material should exceed 2x3 feet.

Now, can a smart aleck put these 2x3-feet posters next to each other, assemble them like a jigsaw to the size of a billboard? While not prohibited by the law, the Comelec in its implementing rules strangely said: “This regulation is also regulated by making single letters of names having the maximum size or lesser and then putting them together to form a size exceeding two (2) by three (3) feet.” 

Understood. But how about if I put two letters to make “Go” or split a name like “Binay” into “Bi” and “nay” or “Bato” into “Ba” and “to”? Does this mean that it can be done in this case since they are technically not single letters? 

By way of exception, tarpaulins or streamers up to 3x8 feet maybe allowed. But they can only be used to announce a public meeting or rally, and required by law to be displayed 5 days before the date of the meeting or rally and shall be removed within 24 hours after said meeting or rally. 

So posters cannot exceed 2x3 feet, and announcements cannot go bigger than 3x8 feet.  

Which are off limits to campaign posters? To make it easy to digest, the general rule is that it is illegal to post campaign posters just about anywhere. It is absolutely illegal to post at any government-owned buildings and properties (including its cars, patrol cars, and ambulances); government offices, barangay halls, health centers, schools and shrines; government-owned and operated public transport like MRT, LRT and PNR trains; and in public transport terminals, like bus terminals, airports, seaports, and piers.  

Though the rule is widely violated, yes, it is still illegal to post at waiting sheds, street and lamp posts, electric posts and wires, traffic signages, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses, flyovers, bridges, main thoroughfares, center islands, and highways.

The full and exhaustive list is in the second part of Section 7 of Comelec Resolution 10488. 

Anything posted on these structures and these areas are unqualifiedly illegal.

Where can candidates post their posters? The law only allows two places.

First, the law establishes the so-called “common poster areas” or those tiny slice of the public plaza, markets, or barangay centers designated by Comelec as such. Here candidates can post their campaign materials, but these should be smaller than 2x3 feet. Check your local Comelec offices on where are your city’s or town’s common poster areas. 

Second, the law allows campaign materials to be posted on private properties, but with the consent of the property owners. This means that a candidate can approach the owner of the private residence and ask for permission to put on his posters. If consent is given, then the posters should not be considered as “misplaced” even if they are not in Comelec’s common poster area.

Again it is very important to qualify, that if the poster is from or at the expense of a candidate, then it has to comply with the 2x3-feet limitation even if posted in a private property and even if the private owner consents.

But if the poster is fully at the expense of the private person, at his own instance and without collusion with any candidate, the Supreme Court ruled in The Diocese of Bacolod v. COMELEC (GR Number 205728, January 21, 2015) that the private person or entity is not covered by the size limitation.

Does this mean that a private person can put up a billboard in his private property to support a candidate he adores? So long as there is no collusion with any candidate, the Supreme Court said yes. It ruled that such expression is protected speech and beyond the regulatory reach of the Comelec. 

In the Diocese of Bacolod case, the Supreme Court ruled that Comelec can only regulate expressions of candidates, political parties, and franchise holders. The poll body has no legal basis to regulate posters made as legitimate expression of support by private citizens. – Rappler.com 

Emil Marañon III is an election lawyer specializing in automated election litigation and consulting. He is one of the election lawyers consulted by the camp of Vice President Leni Robredo, whose victory is being contested by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Marañon served in Comelec as chief of staff of retired Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. He is a partner at Trojillo Ansaldo and Marañon (TAM) Law Offices.