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Digest:Chavez v. Commission on Elections (437 SCRA 415, 2004)

ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND EXPENDITURE: Equal Access to Media Time and Space

Digest:Chavez v. Commission on Elections (437 SCRA 415, 2004)

Facts: Petitioner Chavez, on various dates, entered into formal agreements with certain establishments to endorse their products. Pursuant to these agreements, three billboards were set up showing petitioner promoting the products of said establishments. 

On December 30, 2003, however, petitioner filed his certificate of candidacy for the position of Senator.

On January 6, 2004, respondent COMELEC issued Resolution No. 6520, which contained Section 32:

Section 32. All propaganda materials such as posters, streamers, stickers or paintings on walls and other materials showing the picture, image, or name of a person, and all advertisements on print, in radio or on television showing the image or mentioning the name of a person, who subsequent to the placement or display thereof becomes a candidate for public office shall be immediately removed by said candidate and radio station, print media or television station within 3 days after the effectivity of these implementing rules; otherwise, he and said radio station, print media or television station shall be presumed to have conducted premature campaigning in violation of Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code.

On January 21, 2004, petitioner was directed to comply with the said provision by the COMELEC's Law Department. He replied, by requesting the COMELEC that he be informed as to how he may have violated the assailed provision. He sent another letter, this time asking the COMELEC that he be exempted from the application of Section 32, considering that the billboards adverted to are mere product endorsements and cannot be construed as paraphernalia for premature campaigning under the rules.

The COMELEC, however, ordered him to remove or cause the removal of the billboards, or to cover them from public view pending the approval of his request.

Feeling aggrieved, petitioner Chavez filed a petition for prohibition with the SC, asking that the COMELEC be enjoined from enforcing the assailed provision. He urges the Court to declare the assailed provision unconstitutional as the same is allegedly (1) a gross violation of the non-impairment clause; (2) an invalid exercise of police power; (3) in the nature of an ex-post facto law; (4) contrary to the Fair Elections Act; and (5) invalid due to overbreadth.

Issue: Whether or not Section 2 of COMELEC Resolution No. 6520 unconstitutional


Police power

Petitioner argues that the billboards, while they exhibit his name and image, do not at all announce his candidacy for any public office nor solicit support for such candidacy from the electorate. They are, he claims, mere product endorsements and not election propaganda. Prohibiting, therefore, their exhibition to the public is not within the scope of the powers of the COMELEC.

Police power, as an inherent attribute of sovereignty, is the power to prescribe regulations to promote the health, morals, peace, education, good order, or safety, and the general welfare of the people. To determine the validity of a police measure, two questions must be asked: (1) Does the interest of the public in general, as distinguished from those of a particular class, require the exercise of police power? and (2) Are the means employed reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of the purpose and not unduly oppressive upon individuals?

A close examination of the assailed provision reveals that its primary objectives are to prohibit premature campaigning and to level the playing field for candidates of public office, to equalize the situation between popular or rich candidates, on one hand, and lesser-known or poorer candidates, on the other, by preventing the former from enjoying undue advantage in exposure and publicity on account of their resources and popularity. 

Moreover, petitioner cannot claim that the subject billboards are purely product endorsements and do not announce nor solicit any support for his candidacy. Under the Omnibus Election Code, election campaign or partisan political activity is defined as an act designed to promote the election or defeat of a particular candidate or candidates to a public office. It includes directly or indirectly soliciting votes, pledges or support for or against a candidate.

It is true that when petitioner entered into the contracts or agreements to endorse certain products, he acted as a private individual and had all the right to lend his name and image to these products. However, when he filed his certificate of candidacy for Senator, the billboards featuring his name and image assumed partisan political character because the same indirectly promoted his candidacy. Therefore, the COMELEC was acting well within its scope of powers when it required petitioner to discontinue the display of the subject billboards. If the subject billboards were to be allowed, candidates for public office whose name and image are used to advertise commercial products would have more opportunity to make themselves known to the electorate, to the disadvantage of other candidates who do not have the same chance of lending their faces and names to endorse popular commercial products as image models. Similarly, an individual intending to run for public office within the next few months, could pay private corporations to use him as their image model with the intention of familiarizing the public with his name and image even before the start of the campaign period. This, without a doubt, would be a circumvention of the rule against premature campaigning.

Non-impairment of contract

Section 32 is not a gross violation of the non-impairment clause. The non-impairment clause of the Constitution must yield to the loftier purposes targeted by the Government. Equal opportunity to proffer oneself for public office, without regard to the level of financial resources one may have at his disposal, is indeed of vital interest to the public. The State has the duty to enact and implement rules to safeguard this interest. Time and again, this Court has said that contracts affecting public interest contain an implied reservation of the police power as a postulate of the existing legal order. This power can be activated at anytime to change the provisions of the contract, or even abrogate it entirely, for the promotion or protection of the general welfare. Such an act will not militate against the impairment clause, which is subject to and limited by the paramount police power.

Ex post facto law

Petitioner argued that the assailed provision makes an individual criminally liable for an election offense for not removing such advertisement, even if at the time the said advertisement was exhibited, the same was clearly legal. Hence, it makes a person, whose name or image is featured in any such advertisement, liable for premature campaigning under the Omnibus Election Code.

Section 32, although not penal in nature, defines an offense and prescribes a penalty for said offense. Laws of this nature must operate prospectively, except when they are favorable to the accused. It should be noted, however, that the offense defined in the assailed provision is not the putting up of propaganda materials such as posters, streamers, stickers or paintings on walls and other materials showing the picture, image or name of a person, and all advertisements on print, in radio or on television showing the image or mentioning the name of a person, who subsequent to the placement or display thereof becomes a candidate for public office. Nor does it prohibit or consider an offense the entering of contracts for such propaganda materials by an individual who subsequently becomes a candidate for public office. One definitely does not commit an offense by entering into a contract with private parties to use his name and image to endorse certain products prior to his becoming a candidate for public office. The offense, as expressly prescribed in the assailed provision, is the non-removal of the described propaganda materials three (3) days after the effectivity of COMELEC Resolution No. 6520. If the candidate for public office fails to remove such propaganda materials after the given period, he shall be liable under Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code for premature campaigning. Indeed, nowhere is it indicated in the assailed provision that it shall operate retroactively. There is, therefore, no ex post facto law in this case. 

Fair Elections Act

Next, petitioner urges that Section 32 is a violation of the Fair Elections Act. According to him, under this law, billboards are already permitted as lawful election propaganda. He claims, therefore, that the COMELEC, in effectively prohibiting the use of billboards as a form of election propaganda through the assailed provision, violated the Fair Elections Act. Petitioners argument is not tenable. The Solicitor General rightly points out that the assailed provision does not prohibit billboards as lawful election propaganda. It only regulates their use to prevent premature campaigning and to equalize, as much as practicable, the situation of all candidates by preventing popular and rich candidates from gaining undue advantage in exposure and publicity on account of their resources and popularity. Moreover, by regulating the use of such election propaganda materials, the COMELEC is merely doing its duty under the law.


A statute or regulation is considered void for overbreadth when it offends the constitutional principle that a governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to State regulations may not be achieved by means that sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms. 

The provision in question is limited in its operation both as to time and scope. It only disallows the continued display of a persons propaganda materials and advertisements after he has filed a certificate of candidacy and before the start of the campaign period. Said materials and advertisements must also show his name and image.

There is no blanket prohibition of the use of propaganda materials and advertisements. During the campaign period, these may be used subject only to reasonable limitations necessary and incidental to achieving the purpose of preventing premature campaigning and promoting equality of opportunities among all candidates. The provision, therefore, is not invalid on the ground of overbreadth. 


Source and Credit: Retrieved May 21, 2020, from legalvault blogspot

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