Political speech regulation NOT always content-based

The fact that a questioned regulation applies only to political speech or election-related speech does not, by itself, make it a content-based regulation. (G.R. No. 223705, August 14, 2019)

READ MORE: Law dean explains "protected speech."

It is too obvious to state that every law or regulation would apply to a particular type of speech such as commercial speech or political speech. It does not follow, however, that these regulations affect or target the content of the speech or expression to easily and sweepingly identify it as a content-based regulation. Instead, the particular law or regulation must be judiciously examined on what it actually intends to regulate to properly determine whether it amounts to a content-neutral or content-based regulation as contemplated under our jurisprudential laws. To rule otherwise would result to the absurd interpretation that every law or regulation relating to a particular speech is a content-based regulation. Such perspective would then unjustifiably disregard the well-established jurisprudential distinction between content-neutral and content-based regulations.

To be sure, not all regulations against political speech are content-based. Several regulations on this type of speech had been declared content ­ neutral by the Supreme Court in previous cases. In National Press Club v. COMELEC,[1] the Court ruled that while the questioned provision therein ­- preventing the sale or donation of print space or airtime for political advertisement during the campaign period - of course, limits the right of speech and access to mass media, it does not authorize intervention with the content of the political advertisements, which every candidate is free to present within their respective COMELEC time and space. In the case of 1-UTAKv. COMELEC[2], the questioned prohibition on posting election campaign materials in public utility vehicles was classified as a content­-neutral regulation by the Court, albeit declared an invalid one for not passing the intermediate test.

[1] National Press Club v. COMELEC, 283 Phil. 795, 810 (1992).
[2] 1-UTAK v. COMELEC, 758 Phil. 67 (2015).