SC brings back per-station cap for political ads

The Supreme Court of the Philippines declared this Tuesday that airtime limits imposed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for political advertisements were unconstitutional.

The decision will make an existing restraining order ruled in April for Comelec Resolution 9615 and amendments stated on Resolution 9631 permanent.

READ ALSO: SC stops political ad airtime caps

Candidates for national office can now again run 120 minutes of television ads and 180 minutes of radio ads per station, instead of an aggregate total cap the Comelec enforced in January 2013 in anticipation of the May 2013 elections. Ad limits for local office candidates are 60 minutes for TV and 80 minutes for radio in all networks.

The High Court gave the following reasons why the Comelec airtime caps were deemed unconstitutional.

  • the arbitrary manner by which Comelec changed the previous regulation from “per station” to “aggregate total”
  • the violation of freedom of expression, speech and of the press
  • the violation of the people’s right to suffrage
  • the absence of prior hearing before adoption.

The decision is in favor of separate petitions filed by GMA Network, Inc. and ABC Corp. (TV5) and the Kapasinan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) and ABS-CBN, which criticized the “new” rules as too restrictive and may stifle revenues.

The SC, however, sustained the rest of the Comelec resolution, saying that it “did not impose an unreasonable burden on the broadcast industry and the provision of the right to reply is reasonable under the circumstances.”

The Comelec expressed its disappointment with the SC ruling with an official statement on 2 September, concerned about how reverting back to per station caps can affect local television in the 2016 elections.

“With this new decision, the Supreme Court effectively obliterated a statutory mechanism to level the playing field by setting a cap on the quantity of media exposure candidates can buy.”

The poll body said that it will not pursue a motion for reconsideration, and will instead “impose stricter campaign finance regulations – particularly on expense monitoring and documentary requirements – for the upcoming 2016 elections.”

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