Comelec warns against 'false' complaints on premature campaigning

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 13) -The Commision on Elections (Comelec) warned the public on Wednesday against filing false or fraudulent complaints on premature campaigning for the 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE).

"Lalo na kung ang purpose mo is to disrepute the reputation of another (candidate). Form ‘yan ng libel lalo na at punishable rin ng revised penal code natin," Comelec Chairman George Garcia said during the press briefing of the Comelec Task Force Kontra Epal against premature campaigning.

[Translation: Especially if your purpose is to disrepute the reputation of another (candidate). That is a form of libel and punishable by our revised penal code.]

On the other hand, Comelec urged the public not to be afraid to file a complaint, assuring that complainants will be protected.

“So, few weeks nung kandidato, puwede niyang balikan ‘yung mismong naninira lang sa kanya, pero huwag naman matatakot ‘yung mga nagko-complain dahil sabi nga natin, bibigyan natin ng proteksiyon," he added. "Kahit nga po hindi under oath ‘yung reklamo, a-aksiyunan po natin ‘yan."

[Translation: So, the candidate has a few weeks, where he can get back to the very person who was slandering him. Those who complain shouldn't be afraid, because we will provide them protection. Even if the complaint is not done under oath, we will act on it.]

According to the poll body, a picture of the actual violation of premature campaigning is essential to back up the claim or the report.

It added that when submitting a report, complainants should include the name of the violator, the barangay or municipality he/she is campaigning, and if possible, the email address of the violator, and the evidence.

“Yung sabi nga ni Chairman kanina, na sana ‘yung mga magfa-file ng complaint ay talagang may intent naman tulungan kaming i-implement ‘yung law, hindi lang para siraan ‘yung kalaban nila. While we are trying to process every complaint, we’re also mindful of the fact na baka ‘yung iba rito is to smear ‘yung kalaban nila,” Dir. Nick Mendroz of Task Force Anti-Epal said.

[Translation: Like what the Chairman said, we hope that those who file a complaint really intend to help us implement the provisions, not to slander another candidate. While we are trying to process every complaint, we’re also mindful of the fact that there could be complaints that only wanted to smear other candidates.]

Under Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, those found to be giving false information will be liable for an election offense.

Violators may face penalties of imprisonment for up to six years and losing the right to vote and run for public office.

Garcia expressed optimism on the number of complainants, saying the poll body is committed to solving the reports.

“Natutuwa nga po kami para sa kaalaman ng lahat, isipin niyo po nakaka-apat na daan na tayo," he said. "Ibig sabihin lang daming nagrereklamo na dahil alam nila ina-aksyunan ng Comelec."

[Translation: We want the public to know that we are happy because we already received more than 400 complaint reports. This means that complainants know that the Comelec is taking action.]

The task force against Premature Campaigning has issued 296 show cause orders to BSKE candidates nationwide. The poll body was preparing 174 more show cause orders on Wednesday.

The task force said 117 complaints were reviewed, while 94 were pending for review. Most of the candidates were from Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna, and Bulacan.

READ: Comelec to send show cause orders to BSKE bets via email

Mendros said upon receipt of the complaints, they classify them into those that are verified and unverified. If complaints were verified, they will proceed to the preliminary investigation. For those unverified, they will issue show cause orders and wait for the explanations first.

A team of six lawyers were tasked to evaluate the complaints.

The Comelec expressed hope that in the 2025 BSK election, there would be no premature campaigning anymore.

Garcia concluded that institutionalizing the program would help fight premature campaigning in the future.

CNN Philippines’ correspondent Paige Javier contributed to this story.