THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) calls the shots in all poll-related matters but it is helpless when it comes to illegal campaigning.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista admitted that the Supreme Court ruling on the Penera vs. Comelec virtually abolished illegal campaigning as an offense when the campaign period has not officially started.
The commission has earlier directed its legal department to come out with a memorandum on what a candidate can and cannot do before the campaign period.
However, the draft report submitted to him only touched on actions that a candidate can do.
This prompted the Comelec chief to call on Congress to come up with a measure that will clearly set the guidelines on what a candidate can and cannot do starting from the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) up to the start of the campaign period.
“The call is really on Congress in order to come up with a law that would spell out with clarity which actions are allowed from this period until the campaign period, from the filing of COCs to the election period and which activities should not be allowed,” Bautista said.
“The problem is this decision on the Penera case which appears to prohibit nothing. We’ve been saying that there should be a law that would regulate from now and the election period,” he told reporters.
In its 2010 ruling, the High Court reversed its earlier decision in the Penera vs. Comelec case where it disqualified Sta Monica, Surigao del Norte Mayor Rosalinda Penera as a candidate in the 2007 local elections for violation of Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code which prohibits premature campaigning.
With the reversal, the SC effectively nullified Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code. Section 80 states that “it shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate…to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity, except during the campaign period.”
The Comelec chief lamented that the SC ruling tied the hands of the poll body.
“If you look at the decision of the SC in Penera, technically you can only engage in prohibitive campaign activities during the campaign period. Essentially before that you’re free to do [anything],” he explained.
Bautista said the Comelec legal department continues to study and find ways how the poll body can regulate activities with corresponding penalty for violators to level the playing field between rich and poor candidates.
He said the Comelec is also in the dark when it comes to handing down penalties for poll violators.
“The law is very clear, particularly penal law, that if you’re not given authority by Congress to provide the punishment you just can’t do it,” he explained.