by Ed Velasco
The diocese of Bacolod was defended yesterday for putting up tarpaulin bearing names of senatorial candidates under “Team Patay (Death)” and “Team Buhay (Life),” amid a Commission on Elections (Comelec) plan to file a case on election campaign violations against the San Sebastian Cathedral where the posters were displayed.
A renowned bishop said the move is not a form of campaigning but just a way to guide electorates on candidates who deserve to be voted.
Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Bishop Oscar Cruz said the Catholic Church is not encroaching on the boundary between the Church and the State because the owner of the church — the bishop — where the tarpaulin is posted allowed it.
An election lawyer also came to the rescue of the diocese. Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said Comelec cannot prevent the church from putting up its huge tarpaulin since the church is a private property.
“The church cannot be prevented by Comelec from putting up its huge tarpaulin of buhay and patay candidates even if oversized since the church is a private property,” he said.
Despite the imminent filing of charges against him by the Comelec, Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra remains defiant and refused to remove a controversial huge tarpaulin displayed at the facade of Bacolod City’s San Sebastian Cathedral bearing the list of senatorial candidates categorized as “Team Patay’ and “Team Buhay”
Bishop Navarra has even filed before the Supreme Court an urgent “petition for certiorari and prohibition with application for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order” against the poll body. The petition seeks to nullify Comelec’s directive on the removal of the tarpaulin for being “unconstitutional and void.”
Comelec’s Legal Department wrote Navarra twice, the latest dated Feb. 27, ordering him to remove” illegal sized campaign material immediately” or risk being charged with an election offense under Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Elections Act.
The law limits the size of campaign posters at two feet by three feet. The controversial
Bacolod poster measures six feet by ten feet.
“This is about freedom of expression and the principle of the separation of Church and State”, Navarra stressed.
Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.in his official twitter account said “Comelec welcomes the suit filed by the diocese of Bacolod in the Supreme Court questioning our order to remove its illegal tarpaulin. We maintain, however, that the Team Patay and Buhay is an election propaganda and thus covered by the size restriction imposed by law.”
Brillantes also said that unless restrained by the Supreme Court, they will commence the proceedings next week for the filing of appropriate election offense cases against whoever is responsible for the violations.
“Freedom of speech and expression must be exercised within the bounds of law,” Brillantes added.
“Under the law, the owner of any church is the bishop. The law of the church is different from the law of Comelec,” Cruz said.
Bishop Vicente Navarra has already received a letter from the Commission on Elections asking him to remove and resize the tarpaulin. The diocese of Bacolod is the second biggest diocese in Visayas after the diocese of Cebu with 26 suffragans.
It idenfied the candidates of “Team Patay,” the “anti-life” senatorial aspirants re-electionist Francis “Chiz” Escudero (Team Pnoy), re-electionist Loren Legarda (Team Pnoy), re-electionist Alan Peter Cayetano (Team Pnoy), former Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros (Team Pnoy), Cagayan Rep Jack Enrile (UNA), Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño (Makabayan) and Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara.
The diocese of Bacolod also encouraged Negrenses to support the 6 senatorial candidates who are pro-life. It listed under “Team Buhay”: re-electionist Antonio Trillanes IV (Team Pnoy), re-electionist Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III (Team Pnoy), former Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia Villar (Team Pnoy), Re-electionist Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan (UNA), San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito-Estrada (UNA) and Zambales Rep Mitos Magsaysay (UNA).
Meanwhile, Villar thanked the Catholic church for placing her under “Team Buhay.” She said as a member of Couples for Christ, it’s been their priority to value life that begins at the womb of any mother. “Even if RH bill endorsers would insist that using contraceptives don’t intend to kill, they must remember when a mother becomes a pregnant she starts to carry a new life.
RH bill intends to start a new life that will start at the mother’s womb,” Villar said after she was conferred one of the outstanding entrepreneurs at the Go Negosyo confab last March 1 at the World Trade Center.
Villar said she hopes that the 85 million Catholics of the 96 million Philippine population will use their conscience during the May 13 elections and they will vote for those who value life and family.
Macalintal noted that church is not campaigning but merely reiterating and giving emphasis on church’s stand against the Reproductive Health (RH) law.
“There is no clear and present danger to the citizenry which could be the basis for the government to stop the church from what it is doing,” he said.
He added that the Comelec should instead concentrate more on educating the voters on the proper exercise of suffrage to vote based on qualification and prevent the election from becoming a popularity contest.
Asked if he will volunteer to be the lawyer of the church, he said he will not volunteer but will accept engagement if they will approach him.
He added that there is no election law that is being violated even as the tarpaulin is oversized.
“Even if it’s oversized there is no case because the Church is private property and huge tarps are no clear and present danger to the citizens,” the lawyer added.
The poster at the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City, is said to be measuring 6 feet by 10 feet, which is over the size of the allowable measure of only 2 feet by 3 feet.
With Van C. Suarez