Many of us have obsessed about the recent Trillanes television commercial that campaigns against the presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte, similar to the one that aired weeks before about senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares campaigning against Bongbong Marcos. A group of people on the internet spurned this kind of advertisement, claiming that it is illegal. While this is just a part of the many reasons causing a great divide among Filipinos, more notably among netizens, it is important to argue on facts, rather than base arguments on fiction, false information or worse, improper interpretation of our laws.
Oftentimes, citing a law almost makes everything in our arguments just ten times more legitimate, but how sure are we that we’re interpreting them right?
Under Section 79 of Article 10 in our Omnibus Election Code (OEC), “Election campaign” or “partisan political activity” refers to an act designed to promote the election or defeat of a particular candidate or candidates to a public office which shall include:
- Forming organizations, associations, clubs, committees or other groups of persons for the purpose of soliciting votes and/or undertaking any campaign for or against a candidate;
- Holding political caucuses, conferences, meetings, rallies, parades, or other similar assemblies, for the purpose of soliciting votes and/or undertaking any campaign or propaganda for or against a candidate;
- Making speeches, announcements or commentaries, or holding interviews for or against the election of any candidate for public office;
- Publishing or distributing campaign literature or materials designed to support or oppose the election of any candidate; or
- Directly or indirectly soliciting votes, pledges or support for or against a candidate
Furthermore under Section 82, letter D, of the OEC, lawful election propaganda includes:
All other forms of election propaganda not prohibited by this Code (as the Commission may authorize after due notice to all interested parties and hearing where all the interested parties were given an equal opportunity to be heard: Provided, that the Commission’s authorization shall be published in two newspapers of general circulation throughout the nation for at least twice within one week after the authorization has been granted.)
With the preceding provisions of law, we now know that during the campaign period, supporters are not only allowed to campaign for their chosen candidates but also to campaign against candidates which they are not in favor of.
In some instances, when the law enumerates all acts which are deemed to be legal, it automatically suggests that those acts which are not included in such enumeration are considered as illegal, however in this case, the OEC provides an enumeration of the illegal types of propaganda.
Let us focus more on advertisements broadcast on television and the radio. Under Section 85, letter D, of the OEC, it is prohibited to show or display publicly any advertisement or propaganda for or against any candidate by means of cinematography, audio-visual units or other screen projections except telecasts which may be allowed as hereinafter provided.
The previous paragraph suggests that cinematographs or movies are prohibited. However, it mentioned one exception, which includes telecasts — these advertisements we see on television and hear on the radio, most specifically during primetime hours. These telecasts, under Section 6 of Republic Act 9008, otherwise known as the Fair Elections Act of 2001, are regulated by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in a way that each bona fide candidate or registered political party for a nationally elective office shall be entitled to not more than 120 minutes of television advertisement and 180 minutes of radio advertisement whether by purchase or donation.
Additionally, under the second paragraph of Section 13 of RA 9006: Prior to effectivity of said rules and regulations, no political advertisement or propaganda for or against any candidate or political party shall be published or broadcast through mass media. To give emphasis on the italicized text, it clearly says that no advertisement shall be done for or against a candidate though mass media. Isn’t this provision contradictory to the preceding paragraphs allowing the campaign for or against candidates?
Well, this is where we oftentimes lose ourselves in the process of providing a tangible contention.
We have given so much emphasis on the italicized text that we took for granted the phrase before that which says “Prior to the effectivity of said rules and regulations”, meaning what is prohibited is only the acts, in this case advertisements, done before this Republic Act 9006 was implemented because there were still no provisions that allowed such acts to be done legally and that because the law provides that the Rules and regulations promulgated by the COMELEC under and by authority of this Section shall take effect on the seventh day after their publication in at least two daily newspapers of general circulation.
So now when we combine both statements, it is easier to comprehend the intention of such provision of law:
Rules and regulations promulgated by the COMELEC under and by authority of this Section shall take effect on the seventh day after their publication in at least two daily newspapers of general circulation. Prior to effectivity of said rules and regulations, no political advertisement or propaganda for or against any candidate or political party shall be published or broadcast through mass media.
It is worthy to note that to understand a law and its context, it is best to interpret it as a whole and not part by part.
Now that we have established that indeed it is allowed to campaign against a candidate, we shall explore to what extent does the law allow us to campaign against a candidate.
One gap we can point is that the law does not provide any examples or definition as to how and what extent campaigning against a candidate goes and where we should consider an act as still part of campaigning against a candidate or has it already crossed the line, good enough for libel.
We, Filipinos, are so eager to attack the opinions of others when we feel that our opinion is one of the majority, but when we are part of a group with an unpopular opinion, we become the hypocrites that we are.
We cling to the thought that what is said in the law should be followed whenever such thought favors our candidate, but when it is now against our candidate, we then argue that the framers of such law did not intend for it to be implemented as such.
What is worse is that we use the law and single out one provision away from its full text, making a false impression of its true intent. For example, to cut a law and say, “It is lawful to kill,” is sure different from “it is lawful to kill provided there is already a threat to the life of person,” right?
Days ago, Italy’s high court issued a ruling that it is already justifiable for a poor man to steal small amounts of food to stave off hunger. In this case, we definitely cannot just simply say that in Italy, it is okay to steal food, correct?
We cannot just simply cut the law and its exceptions because it should be interpreted by its entirety and not just dictated by one sentence.
To translate this thought on our behavior on the internet, in a way, most of us are victims of these click-baits or misleading posts. Just because an article manages to cite a law or provide an image making it sound and look very authoritative, doesn’t make it instantly legitimate. It is so hard for us to determine the legitimate ones from satire even. Most of all, we are more prone to being captivated by ambiguous titles and quite a number of us, for sure, are guilty of sharing posts based just on their titles and failing to actually read the article.
However, like what many assert, election day is just hours away and what happened already happened, all we can do now is really just to interpret responsibility as an obligation just like how we oblige ourselves to drink water every day and not just a mere characteristic or trait we claim that some people have and do not have. Being responsible netizens does not end on May 9, it is ad infinitum.