TWO weeks before the campaign period of national candidates start, the poll body has urged those seeking public office this coming elections to follow guidelines set for campaigning.

“The Commission on Elections (Comelec) would like to remind everyone who's running that under the law the campaign prohibition, the campaign rules will kick at the start of your campaign period,” said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.

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February 9 marks the day of election campaign of national candidates while the campaign of local candidates is set to begin on March 26.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, the term "election campaign" refers to an act designed to promote the election or defeat of a particular candidate including forming organizations to solicit votes, holding political conferences and rallies, making speeches, publishing or distributing campaign literature, and directly or indirectly soliciting votes, pledges or support for or against a candidate.

Lawful election propaganda shall include written or printed materials of a size not more than eight and one-half inches in width and 14 inches in length.

Streamers not exceeding three feet by eight feet in size shall be allowed in rallies provided that said streamers may not be displayed except one week before the date of the rally and that it shall be removed within 72 hours after the rally.

Jimenez said the commission is reminding candidates as early as possible not to scare voters but to tell them to keep a watchful eye on their campaigns.

“We want not the Comelec to scare them but we want the voters to scare the candidates... Ultimately the candidates are only answerable to the voters. That I think will be the most effective reminder to stay within the bounds of law.”

He furthered that 2010 candidates already had a chance to introduce themselves and their platform to the public in different forms of media for the past several months even before the actual campaign period starts.

“We've had several months of free for all. We’ve had several months worth of plastering walls and avenues with their faces...They've had to chance to intrude on our nighttime programming. They've had the opportunity to remind us constantly why they are better than their opponents. Enough,” said Jimenez.

“Once the campaign period kicks in, you have to stay within the restrictions that are mandated by law and if you do not stick to those restrictions then by God I hope the voters make you pay for it,” he added.

An earlier Supreme Court decision effectively removed the rules on premature campaigning.

Internet campaigning

The Comelec en banc will also be updating the guidelines in campaigning with consideration on the outburst of new campaign strategies.

Other forms of campaign materials include tarpaulins, rolling trucks, electronic billboards, and Internet advertisements.

“All of these new modalities will have to be taken into consideration in the formulation of these new guidelines,” Jimenez said.

The use of Internet for campaigning would also be considered as most of the candidates have used social networking sites as a tool to promote their bid.

Among those who are active Facebook and Twitter users are presidential candidates Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Nicanor Perlas, Manny Villar, Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro, and vice-presidentiable Manuel "Mar" Roxas.

Jimenez said a lot of discussions will definitely be made to look into the question of internet use as it is a "virgin territory."

“To navigate it (Internet) requires touching a lot of legal concepts. A lot of personal freedom is involved... Regulating the net - those two words in a sentence. It sounds weird," he added.

Comelec is also using the web as a tool to educate voters of the first-ever automated election system to be implemented this May.

The campaign guidelines will be out within the next two weeks. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)