RA 9006 (Fair Elections Act) is the product of an inferior culture
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-02-16

PPCRV (Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) lawyer Howard Calleja and the Comelec (Commission on Elections) Legal Head Ferdinand Rafanan agitated a hornets’ nest last Thursday when they warned celebrities and showbiz personalities to take a leave of absence if they will endorse candidates. Presidential candidates as well as the personalities who will be affected immediately denounced the PPCRV and Comelec announcement.

The announcement was based on the provisions of RA 9006 or The Fair Elections Act which states that: “Any mass media columnist, commentator, announcer, reporter, on-air correspondent or personality who is a candidate for any elective public office or is a campaign volunteer for or employed or retained in any capacity by any candidate or political party shall be deemed resigned, if so required by their employer, or shall take a leave of absence from his/her work as such during the campaign period.”

Calleja upped the ante by citing penal provisions of between one to six years imprisonment for the violation of RA 9006.

Leading presidential candidate Senator Benigno Aquino III vowed to challenge RA 9006 in the Supreme Court. His main rival, Senator Manny Villar also echoed a similar contention against RA 9006. Both Aquino and Villar are benefiting from these endorsements although in the case of Aquino, his celebrity endorsers were volunteers who did not receive any payment.

Your Chair Wrecker consulted lawyers and a retired Supreme Court Justice and all of them agreed that RA 9006 is in conflict with Section 4 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution which states: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

It will be interesting to see how the Comelec can enforce RA 9006 in the face of such a clear violation of The Bill of Rights, especially as it applies to the following:

1. In the case of celebrity endorsers who are not receiving payments, this is a curtailment of their freedom of expression. In many other countries, celebrities are free to endorse any candidate they want to support.

2. In the case of media commentators and columnists, RA 9006 is a clear violation of freedom of the press. Opinion makers are there precisely to express personal views. Walter Winchell was hailed for taking a very strong position against German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler even before World War II erupted.

It is the news reporters who are duty bound to provide both sides of an argument or an issue. But broadcast commentators and press opinion columnists are free to espouse whichever side they believe in – if they wish to espouse a side of an issue. In the population control debate, a staunch Catholic will espouse the Pope’s position versus the liberal who will take the opposite view.

Even the publications are allowed to endorse a presidential candidate. In the 2008 US presidential elections, the prestigious New York Times and Los Angeles Times were among the major publications that endorsed Barrack Obama.

The main objective of a Fair Elections Act – to search for a level playing field for all candidates – is commendable. But the provisions and Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Fair Elections Act must not violate the Bill of Rights and should not be allowed to do so.

Those who are implementing a Fair Elections Act would do better to strictly enforce the limits to candidate election spending just like presidential candidate Manny Villar’s level of ad spending which has become too glaring and obscene. The tracked level of Villar’s fourth quarter 2009 TV ad spending alone may already approximate, if not exceed, his allowable total spending for the official campaign period.

The thinking behind RA 9006 reflects this “sore loser” mentality that is seen many times, in many places, in our country. Notice how handicapping is often resorted to in the search for a level playing field. This is a wrong approach that reflects an inferior culture.

This mindset behind RA 9006 is tantamount to penalizing the superior performer in order to assist the poor performer. The achiever nations are those that promote the ideal of being better than the best. Their focus is on improvement and competitive edge – not handicapping.

Following this handicapping mentality, shall we insist that all Filipinos must not be allowed to have a college education so that the poor who cannot attain a college degree can compete for jobs? Shall we prohibit those who worked hard to afford better health services from going to the superior hospitals and thus just go to our poorly equipped health centers for their complicated health problems?

When we play basketball in the Olympics, shall we insist with the International Olympic Committee that the taller Americans and Europeans play with us kneeling down so that there is no height advantage working against us? See how far you’ll go if you ask for that.

That is not reform. That is retrogression. You do not move forward with that mentality and can only sink deeper in your black hole and remain hopeless.

  Previous Columns:

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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