As the official campaign season for the 2022 elections started on Feb. 8, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) reminded political candidates to take heed of the minimum public health standards (MPHS) for all in-person activities.
In a press briefing streamed through the Comelec Facebook page on Feb. 8, Comelec director James Jimenez stressed that not wearing face masks and face shields constitute a violation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and can lead to specific sanctions.
Comelec’s Education and Information Department (EID) Director, Atty. Elaiza David, explained that MPHS violations, which falls under Resolution 10732 released in November 2021, are considered different from the election offenses that are indicated by the Omnibus Election Code. Such cases are often launched through the prosecutor’s office and not with the Comelec according to David. Under the same resolution, activities such as handshakes, hugs, kisses, and even selfies are prohibited.
When asked about sanctioning the misuse or lack of use in face masks, Jimenez noted that context and due process are essential in dealing with these violations. “When I say context, I mean are we seeing them like going around the entire campaign na walang mask? Or baka for that particular picture lang nagtanggal ng mask. So, again, you’re going to have to prove that the violation actually took place,” Jimenez said.
On the use of face shields, Jimenez clarified that though it is included in the Comelec guidelines, it will still remain voluntary under low alert levels unless otherwise imposed by local authorities where a campaign will be held. The Comelec spokesperson said: “Remember face shields are still in the guidelines. It’s just that their use, in certain conditions, are voluntary, but ultimately subject to the decision of authorities whether or not to impose them.”
David also reminded that candidates are required to submit a report within 72 hours after conducting an in-person campaign activity to likewise determine whether they have followed through.
However, in the event that candidates have violated any of these guidelines, a complaint is necessary as the Jimenez said that “Comelec cannot be everywhere at once.”
“I don’t think we will argue about these regulations, especially as it applies to ordinary people. These regulations are not designed to make it easy for everyone, these are designed to keep everyone safe as much as possible,” Spokesperson Jimenez stressed.
Department of the Interior and Local Government undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, meanwhile, appealed in a separate briefing for everyone to comply with the guidelines and treat it as a "collective responsibility."
"Hindi naman mababantayan 24/7 ng mga kapulisan ang lahat ng campaign activities ng mga kandidato," Malaya said during the Feb. 8 Laging Handa briefing.
Malaya appealed to all candidates to “self-police” their campaign activities to prevent superspreader events.
"Kami po ay nanawagan sa ating mga kababayan na sana ay maging maayos itong parating na pangagampanya at hindi ito maging dahilan ng superspreader events," said Malaya.