Home Editors' Picks Comelec threat of arrest  is illegal, lawmakers say

Comelec threat of arrest  is illegal, lawmakers say

ELECTION officials sent off a truck containing vote counting machines and other election materials on April 2. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

LAWMAKERS at the weekend slammed an election official’s threat to have people who criticize the Commission on Elections for bias arrested by the military.

Detained Senator Leila M. de Lima, a former human rights commissioner, said Election Commissioner Rey E. Bulay’s threat “is uncalled for and illegal.”

“Under the constitution, the only time the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is allowed to exercise the law enforcement powers of the Philippine National Police, like arresting people, is when the commander-in-chief calls out the AFP to suppress lawless violence,” she said in a statement.

“Neither Bulay nor the Comelec is the commander-in-chief,” Ms. De Lima, one of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s most outspoken critics, said. “Not even during elections. The Comelec’s deputization power during elections certainly does not include the power to use the AFP in stifling criticisms and suppressing free speech.”

“We will not hesitate to call upon the AFP, which is now under Comelec control, to round you up and have you jailed,” Mr. Bulay told a news briefing in mixed English and Filipino on Friday.

“There is no basis for such a threat,” Antonio M. La Viña, a constitutional law professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a mobile phone message.

“You can only be arrested if you commit a crime. It is definitely not a crime to criticize the Comelec. Any statements about the elections are also protected speech.”

Ms. de Lima said these people merely exercised their right to freedom of speech and to petition the government for redress.

House Assistant Minority Leader and Party-list Rep. France L. Castro in a separate statement called Comelec hypersensitive.

“Citizens either by themselves or through their organizations are completely within their rights to appeal or call for the holding of orderly, peaceful and credible elections,” he said. “That’s just the Filipinos’ way of telling the poll body ‘Hey, Comelec, do your job.’”

“After all, the holding of orderly, peaceful and credible elections is the Comelec’s job under the Constitution,” he added, noting that calls for the election body not to favor certain candidates neither sow distrust nor condition the minds of the public.

Mr. Castro asked the Comelec en banc to withdraw its statement.

Mr. Bulay’s warning “is a prior restraint on free speech and expression, which includes political speech, and constricts the already shrinking democratic space in the country,” he added.

Election Commissioner Socorro B. Inting earlier said the call by the group AIM Alumni for Leni for honest, orderly and peaceful elections was unnecessary.

The group addressed its call to Comelec, the electoral boards that will manage the elections in voting precincts, Department of Education, police, military and all deputized agencies.

“We, the representatives of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Alumni for Leni, ask all charged with administering the elections to be nonpartisan,” it said. “You are tasked to make voting safe, to ensure that voting is secret, and to protect the will of the voters as expressed in the ballot.”

“Our collective interest is for our candidates to be elected through a credible process. When elections are credible, the results will be accepted, and the transition to the new government will be peaceful and orderly,” they added. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan