New Rules and Regulations Governing the Elections

The Comelec promulgated Resolution No. 9615 on 15 January 2013. This Resolution implements the provisions of Republic Act No. 9006, more popularly known as the Fair Election Act, for purposes of the 2013 national and local mid-term elections.

The Fair Election Act governs the use of TV, radio and other broadcast media, and other forms and methods of campaigning, the use and conduct of election surveys and exit polls, and the method of implementing the right to reply enshrined under Section 4, Article IX-C of the 1987 Constitution. The law seeks to level the playing field among national and local electoral candidates and parties, particularly by placing limits on the amount of time a candidate or political party may access a particular medium for campaign purposes as well as by limiting the type and forms of allowable election campaign materials, and regulating public rallies, meetings and other political activities.

While generally hewing closely to the provisions of the law, the new regulation has met stringent opposition from media groups as a result of a number of novel provisions. Foremost among these is the introduction of regulations governing the use of the internet, particularly, blogs, social networks, and other online channels and websites. Previously unregulated, online propaganda is now subject to limitations as to time, pixel width, height and aspect ratio and frequency. More particularly, under Resolution 9615, online advertisements for each candidate are allowed a maximum of three times a week per website during the entire campaign period. Any exhibition or display within a 24-hour period is considered one publication, regardless of frequency.

The new regulation also redefines the maximum thresholds for air time and radio broadcast. Previously, limits to air and radio transmissions were counted on a per station basis. Under the current rules, candidates for national positions and the party-list system are now allowed only a maximum aggregate of 120- and 180-minutes for TV and radio broadcasts. Candidates for local positions, on the other hand, are only entitled to an aggregate of 60- and 90-minutes for TV and radio, respectively. Appearance and guestings of candidates in a newscast, documentary or report may be excluded from the computation of these limits upon prior approval of Comelec and proof that other candidates were afforded equal opportunity. These particular provisions have received the widest criticism from media practitioners as infringements on press freedom.

The new regulations also give candidates the right to file a claim against media practitioners which may have violated their right to reply. The right to reply is a constitutional right implemented by the Fair Election Act. It mandates that candidates against whom charges have been published must be given an equal opportunity to respond. Given the redefinition of limits to periods of broadcast, it is uncertain whether affording a slighted candidate the right to reply will be counted as part of his or her aggregate maximum broadcast times.

Lastly, and least contentious of all, the regulation encourages environment-friendly campaigns and requires candidates to strictly follow local ordinances proscribing the use of plastic and other environmentally harmful materials.

The campaign period is set between 12 February 2013 to 11 May 2013 for party-list groups and candidates running for senator and between 29 March 2013 and 11 May 2013 for those campaigning for local positions and seats as members of the House of Representatives. As in the 2010 elections, the campaign period excludes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the eve of Election Day and the day of elections itself.

(Imee and April Carmela B. Lacson co-authored this article.)