One of the most novel and equally controversial provisions of the Revised Student Election Code of DLSU-D is the provision concerning electronic forms of election propaganda.
Yours truly was part of the body that assembled to revise the old Student Election Code of DLSU-D back in 2008. Considering my background in social media publishing, aka I’m a blogger, and my previous experience in being Chair of the 2007 Students’ Constitutional Convention that drafted the 2008 USC Constitution, the body appointed me to draft the provisions concerning electronic forms of propaganda.
When we say electronic form of election propaganda we mean campaigning done through SMS, the Internet – in particular social media, video, audio and any other means of electronic communication.
As early as the 2007 elections, political parties were already using SMS, aka group messages to campaign for their candidates during elections. Back then, there were no provisions in the old E-Code about this method or other electronic campaign propaganda, however, the SCE still allowed it given that the campaign messages did not contain defamatory/libelous content against any political party and/or candidate.
As time went on, social media like Multiply.com which was still famous back then, were also used as election propaganda. Other political parties started putting up websites of their own. Again, up until the 2008 Revised E-Code, there were no provisions about the electronic election propaganda, yet they were still allowed and that the contents conformed to the relevant provisions of the E-Code. In addition to content, such electronic campaign propaganda were only used, published and utilized during the campaign period. Outside of the campaign period, they were strictly prohibited.
This was the experience and practice that became the norm up until the 2008 Revised E-Code was drafted, ratified and took effect beginning the 2009 USC and CSC elections.
So when we considered the provisions about the electronic form of election propaganda, we realized that it was impractical and impossible for the SCE to fully regulate it in the manner it can regulate non-electronic forms like tarpaulins, fliers, leaflets, posters, pins, shirts, etc. Simply because electronic election propaganda were intangible and resided only the vast expanse of the Internet and electronic gadgets while the non-electronic election propaganda were physically tangible and were only used inside the campus well within the literal jurisdiction of the SCE.
However, the body also understood that we cannot stop the march of progress and the creativity of the political parties – electronic forms of election propaganda is the way to go.
Compromise: Continue from historical experience and practice
So the compromise was that the SCE gave up jurisdiction over electronic forms of election propaganda in terms of the quantity, dimensions and the locations where they can be posted. However, the contents or substance and timeliness of its usage remained under the jurisdiction of the SCE as was the practice back in 2007.
Political parties and candidates were free to use any forms of electronic election propaganda be it SMS, social media, dedicated websites, videos, cover photos, profile photos, infographics etc. as long as the contents conformed to the applicable provisions of the E-code that regulated content:
Section 50. Prohibited Forms of Campaign Paraphernalia/Propaganda. Any
campaign paraphernalia/propaganda shall be unlawful if it:
Xxx xxx xxx
b. Contains the Course of the candidate.
c. Contains defamatory/libellous content against any political
party and/or candidate.
d. Involves the use of logo/name of any outside organization/
individual that has not been a donor of the political party and/
Aside from the content, the timeliness of using electronic election propaganda is also regulated by the E-code, that such campaigning is prohibited outside the campaign period.
A perfect sample case or precedent was the case of SENTRO vs SINAG, 2007-2008 elections wherein a campaign manager of SINAG political party was caught campaigning on election day itself using group SMS. SINAG was disqualified not for using SMS, but for campaigning during election days.
Provisions of the E-Code must be interpreted in harmony, not in conflict
Now, there is a serious misconception that since there is Section 47, f. that says:
The SCE shall have no jurisdiction over electronic form of election propaganda
It means that political parties and candidates have absolute freedom with electronic election propaganda. This is wrong. This is the wrong way of interpreting the E-Code because if this was correct, there would be a conflict with Section 50, c. of the E-Code which prohibits campaign propaganda that is defamatory/libelous. In legal practice, the Supreme Court explains why provisions of a law or code must not be taken against the other provisions, instead it should be interpreted and implemented in harmony with other provisions that express the intention of the authors of the law or its spirit.
The rule is that a a code is enacted as a single, comprehensive statute, and is to be considered as such and not as a series of disconnected articles or provisions. (Baking v. Director of Prisons)
Thus Section 47, f and Section 50 can stand side by side and not in opposition to one another. That parties and candidates can use any form of electronic election propaganda and regardless of its quantities as long as the contents do not contain defamatory or libelous content nor the courses of the candidates it bears and that such electronic campaign propaganda be used only during the campaign period.
A parallel case would be SWAFO’s past investigation in the blind-item pages in Facebook where students are sharing/posting their “secret stories” about life as a student in DLSU-D. The student handbook does not prohibit students about creating social media accounts, but if such accounts are being used to post content that are malicious or libelous against any member of the academic community, school administrators are authorized to investigate and if proven, discipline erring students.
It should be now clear to all students, specially the political parties, their candidates and the Student Commission on Elections that the use of electronic election propaganda are still subject to the provisions of the Student Election Code.