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Comelec commish: Early campaigning part of candidates' freedom of expression

Early campaigning is part of candidates' “freedom of expression,” Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento told GMA News Online Wednesday. “Wala kaming prohibition diyan. Wala nang premature campaign period kasi ngayon,” he said. Sarmiento also cited the 2009 Supreme Court decision Peñera vs. Comelec, which ruled that elective aspirants can promote themselves before the scheduled campaign period since they are not yet considered candidates. “The effective date when partisan political acts become unlawful as to a candidate is when the campaign period starts. Before the start of the campaign period, the same partisan political acts are lawful,” the ruling said. Thus, “it’s an open season for campaigning or promotional activities,” Sarmiento said. Citing the 2006 Supreme Court decision Lanot vs. Comelec, Sarmiento said political promotion done outside the campaign period forms part of the aspirants’ “freedom of expression.” According to the ruling, early campaigning “are acts protected as part of freedom of expression of a citizen before he becomes a candidate for elective public office.” Anti-epal bill Sarmiento, however, does not agree that candidates should campaign early, since premature campaigning would benefit only the resource-rich candidates. “Campaigning should be regulated because [early campaigning] favors those who have resources at the expense of the poor but qualified candidates,” Sarmiento said. To regulate the “unnecessary media exposure” of well-off candidates, the commissioner recommended Senator Miriam Santiago’s “anti-epal bill,” which when passed would penalize public officials for posting photos of themselves on their projects or on tarpaulins. Senate Bill No. 1967 seeks to penalize the act of affixing the name or image of any public official to a signage announcing a proposed or ongoing public works project. The bill also directs the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Metro Manila Development Authority to remove all existing signages of public works projects bearing the name or image of public officers. “Makakatulong ang anti-epal bill para maregulate natin ang unnecessary media exposure [ng mga kandidato],” Sarmiento said. He added that the bill would level the playing field for both the poor and the resource-rich candidates. — BM, GMA News