PHILIPPINES: Media-Phobic Commission on Elections—Feigned Fairness?

The public should be cautious of the Commission on Election’s (Comelec) ability to meet its expectations to conduct clean polls in the May 2013 Elections. So far, the Comelec’s integrity has been in question.

According to Comelec Resolution 9615, the poll body has imposed aggregate and not per station airtime limits. Since the Supreme Court failed to issue a temporary restraining order, Comelec began enforcing ad limits of 120 minutes for TV stations and 180 minutes on all radio stations. In opposition, the national association of the broadcast media, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), has filed a petition. Comelec has refuted claims that the airtime limits violate press freedom or infringe on editorial independence. It also ignores concerns that voters will be less informed as well as health concerns of candidates due to increased travel. “I think Comelec should stop being media phobic,” said Alan Peter Cayetano, who is running for reelection under the Liberal Party-led coalition.

The poll body has also been accused of selectively implementing campaign rules. Deputy secretary general of Anakbayan NCR, Andro Zarate, argued that marginalized parties are being made easy victims of the commission’s “desperate drive for credibility.”  He points out that Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. has done nothing about the advantage of traditional parties such as the Liberal Party and UNA (United Nationalist Alliance) to air ads long before the start of the campaign period.

Comelec dismissed an appeal from Kabtaan President, Terry Ridon, to review Section 18 of Comelec Resolution 9615 that limits parties to common posting areas selected by the commission. The poll chief told the party to simmer down and comply with rules, rules that Ridon believes may give an unfair advantage to parties with larger campaign funds. The Comelec denies these allegations.

The current campaign prohibitions seem contrary to the original intent of the Fair Election Act. Can Comelec secure a clean, credible election which such a contemptible campaign environment?

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