By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Manila Bulletin

The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) said Wednesday the banners used to urge Davao City Mayor Sara-Duterte Carpio to run for presidency do not violate election laws.

COMELEC Spokesperson James Jimenez said the “Run, Sara, Run” banners, which drew flak online and tagged as early campaigning, was just “a matter of free expression.”

"Technically, there is no violation because in order for premature campaigning to be committed there should be an official candidate," Jimenez told ANC. 

"And no official candidate exists right now. In fact, we are not even filing the certificate of candidacy yet. So, since there is no official candidate, there can be no crime or should we say offense of premature campaigning."

"These people have the right to actually promote the candidacy of anyone that they want. They could put up a banner that says 'Christian Run' and it won't make a difference because it's a matter of free expression," Jimenez added.

The official, however, said such activities skew the playing field.

"You are putting a premium on the ability to go out and campaign this early, which means you have a bigger war chest, which means you have more money, which means that ultimately candidates with more resources are in a better position to win the election," he said.

"So, I think people should reject candidates who are campaigning this early or who are tolerating other people campaigning in their name even if they haven’t yet filed their certificate of candidacy."

Earlier, Jimenez lamented the country’s election automation law has created a huge loophole blurring the definition of premature campaigning.

Under Section 13 of Republic Act 9369, a person is only considered an official candidate at the start of the campaign period: "Any person who files his certificate of candidacy within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy."

During his pre-recorded briefing in Surigao del Sur, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated that his daughter will not run for president next year.

"Inday Sara is not running. I have really, really put my foot down. Naaawa ako sa anak ko. Ang politiko dito, kababuyan," Duterte said.

Last month, the Davao City mayor also appealed to her supporters to wait for her to run for president until 2034.

"I understand where they are coming from. I too am anxious where we are going as a nation. I am always grateful that I have their trust and confidence,” she told ABS-CBN News.

“I am pleading to them to please allow me to run for President [in] 2034, if at that time there is something I can do to help the country. Thank you,” she added.