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Santiago wants clear Comelec ruling on poll ads

By Veronica Uy
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 17:49:00 06/22/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to declare as an illegal election offense any political advertising in the form of commercial and other endorsements until the official campaign period starts in 2010.

Santiago has been waging word war against fellow senators who have endorsed beauty products or services on billboards, television and radio. She contends that this constitutes premature campaigning. Among them are Senators Loren Legarda, Panfilo Lacson and Francis Escudero, who all said that their appearing in these ads is not illegal.

In her 19-page petition, Santiago recognizes that Section 79 of the Election Code applies only to those who have filed their certificates of candidacy, but pointed out that Section 80 of the same law imposes the ban on premature campaign "on any person, whether a voter or a candidate."

"The way out of this dilemma is to apply the rule of statutory construction that Comelec should follow the context, intent, and policy of the law, and should interpret it to avoid an absurdity," she said.

Citing the primary jurisdiction doctrine, Santiago said the Comelec has to ensure equality among candidates by declaring that a premature campaign, which is considered an election offense, should be prohibited even if the person has not yet filed his certificate of candidacy.

Santiago filed the 19-page petition with the Comelec on Saturday before she left for New York to join President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at a dinner reception for United Nations ambassadors.

In the petition, which did not name any respondents, she also asked the poll body to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against politicians, billboard firms and broadcast stations, allegedly engaged in premature campaigns.

Santiago said her petition is a class suit which has no other petitioners and no named respondents "because both parties are so numerous that it is impractical to include them all, and the subject of the controversy is of common interest to the public."

She said that if she does not obtain a categorical ruling from the Comelec, she will elevate her petition on certiorari to the Supreme Court.

"It is a mockery of the law to start campaigning two years before the 2010 elections. The Election Code bans any election campaign outside the campaign period," the senator said.

In a press statement, she said politicians conducting premature campaigns under the pretense of commercial endorsements violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

"Until the Comelec makes a categorical interpretation of the Election Code, the rich and powerful candidate will enjoy an unfair advantage over the poor candidates. This is not allowed under the equal protection clause," she said.

Citing Supreme Court rulings in the 2004 case of Chavez v. Comelec, and the 2006 case of Lanot v. Comelec, Santiago said the high tribunal condemns premature campaigning.

"In both cases, although it denounced premature campaigns, the Supreme Court stopped short of declaring it a criminal offense and ordering the prosecution of violators, because there is a conflict in the law," she said.

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