Comelec sets limits for in-person campaigns per alert level, prior approval required

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 25)— Candidates planning to mount face-to-face sorties for the 2022 elections should secure approval from the so-called Comelec campaign committees (CCCs) ahead of time, according to new rules of the poll body.

The Commission on Elections en banc on Wednesday also identified a five-level classification which determines the allowed audience size and campaign teams per candidate, as well as for in-person political caucuses.

The system is anchored on the alert level in a specific area, as set by the Inter-Agency Task Force.

Applications before the CCC must be filed at least 72 hours before the schedule, and should be decided upon by the panel within 48 hours upon receipt. Inaction would mean automatic approval.

For example, no physical campaign events may be held in areas under alert levels 4 and 5 due to increased COVID-19 transmission. Meanwhile, party meetings may be held only in areas under alert level 4, but venues can only be 30% full.

Meanwhile, there is no limit on the number of attendees if a city or municipality is under alert level 1, the most relaxed restrictions. Private cars, tricycles, and motorcycles joining motorcades may be fully occupied, although the capacity is lower for areas under higher alert levels to maintain physical distancing.

Ahead of the campaign event, a party or politician must apply for a permit from the CCC and disclose the date, time, and place of the gathering. They should also list the names of the candidate’s companions, present proof of reservation of a hotel or conference venue, and secure the approval of the local government unit (LGU) where the sortie will be held.

The CCC will be led by the local election officer of Comelec, while the city or municipal health officer, chiefs of the local police and military units, and local Department of the Interior and Local Government officials will sit as members.

“Under the rules, the LGUs — which have the authority to grant permits — can only deny a permit on a single ground: that a prior permit has been applied for and granted for the same location, same time,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said in a Thursday media briefing.

He clarified that these rules will only apply beginning February 8 for those joining the presidential, vice presidential, senatorial, and party-list races, as the official campaign period starts. Those vying for all other positions need to apply for a permit for events between March 25 and May 7, the campaign period for local posts.

Handshakes, hugs, linking arms, or any form of physical contact among candidates, their companions, and members of the public are prohibited, according to Comelec Resolution No. 10732. Taking selfies or photos at close proximity is also banned, along with the distribution of food and drinks.

“Only candidates, campaign leaders, and supporters belonging to the same household are allowed to be in the same vehicle,” the rules also stated.

A report must then be submitted to the CCC providing details of the event after it was held.

Failure to comply would be an election offense, which is punishable by a fine, one to six years in jail, or even disqualification from the 2022 race.

As political aspirants make the rounds nationwide to campaign ahead of the official period, Jimenez said other government agencies should take charge in enforcing health protocols in such events.

“If they are doing this as private citizens, not some ‘special breed’ of citizens going to run for office, then they should be held accountable by the regular authorities,” Jimenez said, pointing instead to the DILG and the Philippine National Police.

“You don’t need Comelec intervention in this regard because under the Election Code eh, hindi pa siya sakop ng Comelec [they’re still not under Comelec jurisdiction] ,” he added. “The candidates have to be more responsible than that.”