Fil-Am leader bats for freedom to campaign overseas
NEW YORK-based Filipino-American businesswoman and philanthropist Loida Nicolas-Lewis on Monday asked the Supreme Court to stop the Commission on Elections from enforcing a policy that prohibits Filipinos abroad from campaigning for candidates at the onset of the overseas absentee voting period on April 9.
In a 19-page petition for certiorari, Lewis, represented by lawyers from the Ateneo Human Rights Center, asked the court to declare unconstitutional and invalid Section 36.8 of Republic Act No. 9189, or the 2003 OAV Law, which prohibits partisan political activity abroad during the 30-day overseas voting period.
“[T]he manner by which [the prohibition] is to be carried out fails to consider the unique context of overseas absentee voting, thereby resulting in the undue curtailment of the most cherished rights of freedom of speech and expression, and of information,” Lewis said in her petition.
In an interview with reporters, Lewis said overseas Filipinos’ right to free speech and assembly during the election period should not be prohibited by the Comelec.
“The Comelec’s gag order is totally unfair, arbitrary and unreasonable. It’s as if Filipinos abroad are being treated not as real Filipinos. Only Filipinos here in the Philippines can discuss until [May 7] but those abroad should keep quiet. That’s wrong and unconstitutional,” she said.
“It’s unconstitutional because it’s a violation of our freedom of speech, expression and even assembly because Filipinos abroad are not allowed to gather together to talk about partisan politics and this deprives Filipinos abroad from being able to discern whom to vote for in the May 9 elections,” said AHRC lawyer Ray Paolo Santiago.
Lewis, a supporter of administration candidates Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo, said she defied the prohibition by going to Japan recently to attend a political activity. She said rallies and campaigns in Chicago and New York, in Milan, Italy, and on Malta had been canceled.
Lewis said she and the supporters of the other candidates were prohibited by the Philippine consulates from conducting information campaigns, as well as rallies and outreach programs, in support of their candidates.
In her petition, Lewis said the right to suffrage “not only includes the right to vote for one’s chosen candidate, but also the right to vocalize that choice to the public in general, in the hope of influencing their votes.”
Lewis said overseas Filipinos, whether or not they had already voted, “have a lot of things to talk about” before May 9.
Lewis noted that the campaign period in the Philippines will not end until May 7, or two days before the elections. Like local voters, overseas voters will be allowed to cast their ballots in voting centers up to 5 p.m. of May 9, Manila time.
There are about 1.36 million overseas Filipino voters, according to the Comelec.