June 23, 2024

A Regional Trial Court of Baguio has set a test case for the protection of campaign volunteers and volunteer groups all over the country in exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to assembly, which are guaranteed by the Constitution.
In an order dated March 2, RTC Branch 5 Executive Judge Maria Ligaya V. Itliong-Rivera maintained status quo on the case petitioners filed against the Commission on Elections main office and Comelec-CAR concerning the implementation of Comelec Resolution 10732, which requires candidates and parties to get a permit from the Comelec before engaging in election campaign activities.
The court on Feb. 28 granted a 72-hour temporary restraining order stopping the Comelec central and Cordillera offices from enforcing Comelec Resolution 10732 entitled “Guidelines for the Conduct of In-Person Campaign, Rallies, Meetings and Conventions, Motorcades and Caravans, and Miting de Avance under the New Normal in Connection with the May 9, 2022 National and Local Elections” promulgated in November 2021.
The status quo order means the assailed Comelec resolution will not be implemented in the meantime, after Atty. Romeo Aguilar representing the Comelec asked for the resetting of the hearing on the propriety of extending the 72-hour TRO set March 2.
Petitioners Paolo M. Cabato, a minor represented by parents Joseph and Atty. Maarin C.S.M. Cabato; Atty. Karina Gay M. Balajadia-Liggayu; Leandro Enrico T. Ponce; Dr. Clinton Balud; Michael Angelo V. Lagasca; Mia Magdalena F. Longid; Roberta SP. Ruebe; and Jeannette R. Cawi-ding on Feb. 28 filed a petition for declaratory relief to determine the validity of Comelec Resolution 10732 and for the declaration of its nullity with prayer for issuance of a TRO and writ of preliminary injunction.
The petitioners, who come from all walks of life and in their individual capacities advocate for good governance and voter education especially for the May 2022 elections, are campaign volunteers supporting Vice Pres. Leni Robredo. They organized into volunteer groups to plan, coordinate, and document campaign and voter education activities, but are not in any way connected to the candidate.
They have secured permits for all their activities as required by the city government of Baguio but did not secure the same from Comelec, consistent with their position that the same only applies to campaign activities organized by candidates and/or political parties.
For their planned caravan and motorcade already permitted by the LGU on Feb. 18, the Baguio City Police Office in a meeting with the adult petitioners stated they need a permit from Comelec for their activities to push through, otherwise the assembly will be dispersed.
Cabato, lawyer for the petitioners, wrote the Comelec campaign committee in Baguio on Feb. 15 inquiring if Resolution 10732 includes their activities as volunteers.
In its reply, the Comelec-Cordillera through Director Ederlino Tabilas said while the resolution failed to include private persons or volunteers who organized election campaign activities for the benefit of candidates or parties as one who should apply for such activities, it is Comelec’s opinion that by analogy, these private persons or volunteers must also apply for the conduct of election campaign activities for monitoring purposes.
The Comelec advised Cabato to file an application for the conduct of election campaign activities at least 72 hours prior to the intended schedule with the Office of the Regional Election Director, as provided under the assailed Comelec guidelines.
The petitioners claimed they “are not ‘analogous’ to candidates and accredited political parties, party-lists, or coalitions, whose movement, conduct, and even expenditures during the campaign period are subject to regulation.”
They also invoked their primordial rights to freedom of expression and assembly enshrined in the 1987 Constitution against Comelec’s issuance of Resolution 10732 and the interpretation of the Comelec-Cordillera.
They added like in the Diocese of Bacolod vs. Comelec case, the Comelec main and Cordillera offices had no legal basis to regulate expressions made by private citizens.
“Comelec Resolution 10732 clearly states that the requirement to secure a Comelec permit pertains only to candidates and political parties. Petitioners are not candidates. Neither do they belong to any political party,” the petitioners argued, asserting there had been no breach of the resolution for the conduct of their Feb. 18 activity and to date, none of them have received a notice of violation from the Comelec-Cordillera.
The court issued an order for the Comelec offices to cease and desist from enforcing the assailed resolution for 72 hours and had set a hearing on the propriety of extending the same on March 2.
During the March 2 hearing, Aguilar asked the court to reset the hearing after the Comelec regional office received a memorandum from its main office directing them to furnish the Office of the Solicitor General a copy of the petition and the order.
Aguilar also committed that pending the resolution on the extension of the TRO, the Comelec will observe status quo, which meant the Comelec guidelines will not be implemented.
The court granted Aguilar’s prayer and reset the hearing to April 4.
The petitioners said “this can be the basis for protection of volunteers all over the nation exercising their right to freedom of expression and the right to assemble in peace while supporting any and all candidates all over the country.” – Hanna C. Lacsamana