To paraphrase Charles De Gaulle when he said that “politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians”, I must say that elections are too serious a matter to be left to the COMELEC alone.
I applaud and fully support the petition filed by the residents of Baguio City questioning COMELEC rules that require permits to conduct election campaign activities. This is the first time the COMELEC imposed such a requirement in election campaigning purportedly in light of the “new normal” conditions under the COVID-19 pandemic. However, COMELEC can only issue rules that it is authorized to promulgate under the Constitution and election laws. This does not include the power to require permits in the conduct of election campaign activities.
I agree with the petitioners in the Baguio case that the permit system of the COMELEC unnecessarily curtails their freedom of speech and expression in campaigning for their chosen candidates, even if they are just ordinary citizens and do not formally belong to any campaign machinery of the candidates. To campaign for chosen candidates is a most basic right of citizens. COMELEC simply has no business pre-conditioning the exercise of such right on the existence of a permit.
In the same vein, I also fully support the petition filed with the Supreme Court against the COMELEC questioning its Operation Baklas that removes even campaign materials put up on private property by the owner himself. The regulation size provided in the Fair Elections Act clearly applies only to campaign materials put up by the candidates on public places and common poster areas, and not those put up by ordinary supporters on their own property.
The COMELEC has gone overboard in its zeal to administer the elections and election campaigning. However, it should not do this at the expense of the basic rights of citizens to express their support and campaign for their chosen candidates.