POSTERS of local candidates in common poster areas will be removed soon to make way for those of national candidates, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) official said yesterday, the first day of the 12-week official campaign for national positions.

But “Operation Baklas” will not prevent local candidates from joining their national allies in campaign events, said Cebu Provincial Election Officer Ferdinand Gujilde. The commission considers that part of their right to free expression.

The official campaign period for local candidates will begin on March 26, because the first day coincides with Good Friday.

Gujilde said that the Comelec can write candidates and ask them to remove, at their expense, election posters or propaganda materials that violate the rules.

Candidates, however, cannot be held accountable for materials posted or any campaigning done ahead of the official period. Gujilde said that the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Penera case removed the poll body’s authority over “premature” campaigning.

In November 2009, the Court ruled in favor of Sta. Monica, Surigao del Norte Mayor Rosalinda Penera, saying that “a candidate is liable for election offenses only upon the start of the campaign period.”

“Neither can this Court turn a blind eye to the express and clear language of the law ‘that any unlawful act or omission applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the campaign period.’”

However, propaganda materials outside the common poster areas can fall under other rules, like ordinances that prohibit littering or regulate billboards, as well as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ prohibition on placing these materials on trees.

Comelec’s Oplan Baklas task force is chaired by the local election officer, with a public works representative as vice chair and a PNP representative as member.

Gujilde advised civilians who wish to remove propaganda materials that violate Comelec guidelines to coordinate with Comelec, for their protection.