SC: COMELEC Cannot Remove or Destroy Privately-Owned Campaign Materials Displayed on Private Property

The Supreme Court En Banc held in St. Anthony College of Roxas City, Inc. v. Commission on Elections[1] that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) cannot remove or destroy privately-owned campaign materials displayed on private property.  The Court granted the Petition for Certiorari, Prohibition, and Mandamus filed by St. Anthony College of Roxas City, Inc. (St. Anthony College) against the COMELEC and declared the COMELEC’s confiscation and destruction of privately-owned campaign materials displayed on private property unconstitutional.

St. Anthony College and other private persons were the owners and co-owners of tarpaulins, posters, murals, and other materials displayed on their premises, expressing support and soliciting votes for former Vice President Maria Leonor Gerona Robredo, who was a candidate for president in the May 9, 2022 national and local elections. The COMELEC confiscated and destroyed their campaign materials pursuant to the COMELEC’s “Oplan Baklas” under Republic Act No. 9006 (RA 9006), or the Fair Election Act, and COMELEC Resolution No. 10730. 

The Court held that RA 9006 only permits the COMELEC to regulate the election propaganda owned by candidates and political parties.  It does not allow the COMELEC to regulate the political speech of private persons on private property.  While COMELEC may validly implement “Oplan Baklas” against candidates and political parties, it cannot implement “Oplan Baklas” against private individuals expressing their political preferences or support for a candidate or political party.    The COMELEC also violated the property rights of St. Anthony College, as there was no legal basis for the COMELEC’s entry into their private property and removal and destruction of their privately-owned campaign materials.

The Court emphasized that it “has always protected political speech as one of the most important expressions guaranteed by the Constitution, and freedom of speech and expression is at the core of civil liberties and must be protected at all costs for the sake of democracy.”  While acknowledging “the zeal and dedication with which the COMELEC performs its duties and fulfills its mandate to ensure free and fair elections,” the Court stressed that “the best intentions cannot justify impermissible infringements on constitutional rights.” 

In closing, the Court held that “the COMELEC’s implementation of “Oplan Baklas” as against St. Anthony et al., is unconstitutional as it exceeded the bounds of permissible regulation under RA 9006 and COMELEC Resolution No. 10730.”

The Decision in St. Anthony College of Roxas City, Inc. v. Commission on Elections was penned by Associate Justice Jose Midas P. Marquez.

The Supreme Court Public Information Office shall upload the ruling once it receives a copy from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc.

[1]     St. Anthony College of Roxas City, Inc., represented by Sister Geraldine J. Denoga, D.C., Dr. Pilita De Jesus Liceralde, and Dr. Anton Mari Hao Lim v. Commission on Elections, represented by Acting Chairperson Commissioner Socorro B. Inting, and Director James Arthur B. Jimenez, in his capacity as Spokesperson of the COMELEC and Director IV of the COMELEC Department for Education and Information, G.R. No. 258805, October 10, 2023.