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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Comelec warns poll offenders

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Calls out bets over health protocol, campaign poster violations

The Commission on Elections has warned candidates and their respective political parties they will be held liable for violations of poll rules as well as health protocols, which may be considered election offenses, amid fears that in-person campaigns may become COVID-19 super spreader events.

ELECTION RESTRICTIONS. (Top) Commission on Elections acting chairperson Socorro Inting (center) leads the signing of a memorandum of agreement with Vote Pilipinas that aims to beef up voter information campaign for the May 9 polls. Inting was joined by (from left) Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, and Vote Pilipinas representatives Ces Rondario and Larence Libo-on. The poll body said it will also review its campaign guidelines, in particular, the prohibition on selfies, handshakes, and hugs, as alert levels for COVID-19 gradually ease. Norman Cruz, Ver Noveno, and AFP

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the poll body observed that several candidates were not following campaign protocols, particularly on the wearing of face masks and physical distancing.

“It has been brought to our attention that several campaign sorties conducted since the campaign period started have not been compliant with the mandatory face mask and face shield policy, as well as the strict physical distancing requirements,” Jimenez said in a statement.

“In case the candidates need reminding, they are responsible for the safety of their staff and supporters and that the guidelines on physical campaigning are strictly followed,” he added.

He said election campaign activities that involve physical or personal interaction, such as in-person campaigns, rallies, caucuses, meetings and conventions, motorcades and caravans, and meeting de avance are covered by Resolution No. 10732.

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Acting Comelec Chairman Socorro Inting said the poll body would review the campaign guidelines, including the prohibition on taking selfies, giving hugs, and shaking hands, as pandemic restrictions eased even as she reminded candidates to strictly follow safety and health rules.

“Yes, we are aware of these complaints of some candidates. Maybe we will review our rules,” Inting said.

“Now there is a possibility that we will be downgraded to Alert Level 1, so maybe we will review our rules soon for the campaign to be consistent with the alert level,” she added.

Comelec Resolution 10732, issued in November last year, sets rules and regulations on the poll campaign under the new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution says in-person campaigning is allowed in areas under Alert 1, 2, and 3 but candidates or their campaign leaders must be accompanied only by a maximum of five staff members under Alert Level 2 and three staff members under Alert Level 3.

The resolution also prohibits handshakes, hugs, kisses, going arm-in-arm, or any action that involves physical contact among the candidate, their companions, and the public under all alert levels.

It also prohibits taking selfies, photographs, and other similar activities that require close proximity between the candidate and their companions, and the public.

The distribution of food and drink and anything of value is also prohibited.

Meanwhile, Comelec began removing unlawful election materials Wednesday with the launch of “Operation Baklas” in Metro Manila.

But as several videos of Comelec enforcers dismantling campaign materials were posted on social media, former poll commissioner Rowena Guanzon said if they were doing this on private property, then they were trespassing.

“If they enter private property without permission then it is trespassing,” Guanzon said on a Twitter post.

Comelec enforcers dismantled some tarpaulins displayed at a Robredo-Pangilinan volunteers center in Quezon City. Supporters of presidential candidate Leni Robredo argued that the area was private property, outside the jurisdiction of the Comelec.

Last week, the Comelec said even if campaign materials were put up on private property, they still had to comply with the allowable size.

Jimenez also said the poll body had the authority to regulate campaign materials even on private property.

“You can post campaign materials in your personal property but you’re still going to have to abide by the size requirement,” Jimenez said.

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