The Diocese of Bacolod defied a Commission on Election deadline yesterday for the removal of its controversial “Team Patay, Team Buhay” tarpaulin in front of the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City, arguing that it is covered by the “broader Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and conscience.”
The tarpaulin bares a list of senatorial candidates whom the faithful should support and reject for their stance on the reproductive health (RH) law, which the Church has been opposing.
The Diocese of Bacolod is set to hold a huge “Crusade for Life” in Bacolod City in April to further stress its opposition to the RH Law, Fr. Felix Pasquin, rector of the San Sebastian Cathedral, said.
Church lawyer Mitchelle Abella, in a reply yesterday to Election Officer Mavil Majarucon–Sia’s “notice to remove campaign materials” that was received by Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra Friday, asked that the Diocese of be given a definitive ruling by the COMELEC Legal Department on the matter.
Pending the opinion of the COMELEC Legal Department and the availment of proper legal remedies available to the Diocese, the tarpaulins should be allowed to remain, he said.
Majarucon-Sia had ordered the removal of the controversial tarpaulin for being oversized at 6 by 10 feet and in violation of the Omnibus Election Code.
For private properties, the allowable size for campaign materials is only 2 by 3 feet, she said.
Majarucon-Sia, in her notice to the bishop sent Friday, said “you are hereby ordered to remove the said campaign materials, regardless of whoever was responsible for posting the same, within three days from receipt of this notice. Failure to do so will give rise to the presumption that you were responsible for posting the said materials.”
She was in Iloilo City yesterday for a COMELEC seminar and said she would discuss the matter with the bishop on her return to Bacolod.
The main message of the Diocese in its tarpaulin is not really the candidates of the May 13 elections but about the rejection of the RH law, it is not an electoral campaign material, Abella told Majarucon-Sia.
“The stand and the campaign of the Diocese against the RH law has been undertaken for almost two years now when the law was just still a bill, and is independent of any occasion, electoral or otherwise,” he said.
The mention of the candidates in the tarpaulin is merely incidental to the main campaign of the Diocese which is against the RH Law, he added.
The 6 feet by 10 size of the tarpaulin is reflective of death six feet below the ground, and 10 feet signifying standing tall as opposed to lying buried six feet below the ground, that is part of the message the Diocese wants to strongly convey to the faithful, he added.
Under ordinary or usual circumstances, the Diocese does not involve itself in partisan politics, Abella said.
However, the RH law is an evil that our clients feel strongly against as a duty to God and its faithful, he added.
“The fact that it is election period is only incidental to this fight. With or without national or local elections, the Diocese (will) oppose the RH law until it is repealed or adequately amended or modified,” he said.
He also said if it is the intention of the COMELEC to strictly enforce election rules on the Diocese, they find it disturbing that the COMELEC has allowed much more glaring violations of its rules and regulations unattended.*CPG