WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
The Supreme Court has called for oral arguments on March 19 on the petition of the Diocese of Bacolod to stop the Commission on Elections from removing the tarpaulin in front of the San Sebastian Cathedral until the SC decides on the subject.
We shall wait for the decision of the Court but there are extraneous matters that we ought to consider in this controversy, if indeed controversy it is when the Church decides to educate and guide its faithful on their choice of candidates.
Surely, the decision of the Diocese and the risk that Bishop Vicente M. Navarra took are unprecedented and caught many by surprise. However, if one reads the history of the Church the courage to stand for the defense of the faith even offering one's life is nothing new. The Church calendar is filled with saints who stood by their faith, some shedding their blood, others offering their prayers and staving off the forces of evil seeking to weaken and destroy the Church Christ has founded.
Bishop Navarra has already made his decision and was willing to go to jail (many wanted to join him there) for what he believes and teaches.
But what ought to be our concern is the apparent bias of the Comelec regarding election campaign materials. Why this bias is unclear but whatever the reasons of Comelec, the fact is that the prejudice is there.
Let's trace the events without touching on whether the Diocese is right or wrong otherwise we will be liable under the sub judice rule.
The Comelec in Bacolod issued an order for removal on the same day (February 22) the tarpaulin that was unfurled below the left (observer's right) belfry of the San Sebastian Cathedral. It gave the Diocese three days to remove it.
The reason for the order was that the poster was over-sized and therefore, to the mind of Comelec, it was illegal, or a violation of the Comelec Resolution 9615 that prescribes on the size of poster – not more than 2 feet by three feet. The tarpaulin is clearly oversized.
News report said the Bishop initially agreed to comply, but when the matter was referred to the lawyers who volunteered to provide legal assistance, they were unanimous in saying the tarpaulin, despite its size, does not constitute violation of the Comelec resolution.
Thus the tarpaulin stayed and the Comelec, the Chairman Sixto Brillantes no less, issued a threat that they will file charges against the Diocese. That threat, instead of cowing the people, caused many to unite under the Bishop, even the clergy who were earlier reluctant to go with the move, rallied behind Bishop Navarra. No more remarkable development can be hoped for than this.
Even the laity that had initially been lukewarm to the move realized that this tarpaulin is not a gimmick but a firm expression for the faith. Their Bishop was willing to face the consequences of the decision.
As the rallying Biblical quote says, “I would rather obey God's law than that of men” took on a human face. The reality of the sincerity of the Bishop and the clergy in fighting against an evil law could never have been said with greater clarity.
And so to the Supreme Court the lawyers went and got the temporary restraining order. While this is a temporary victory, the fight of the Diocese went nation-wide and last Tuesday, five other dioceses have declared they will follow the lead of Bacolod.
What is heartwarming was the report that on the day the Pilgrim Relics of St. Therese arrived, the Comelec was set to forcibly remove the tarpaulin. I was told several people were there at the Cathedral ready to block the Comelec.
It would have been disastrous but the TRO arrived on time, just as the Pilgrim Relics entered the Cathedral. Miracle? Coincidence? Take your pick. Faithful and cynics and skeptics will make different choices.
But what riles many is that the Comelec was very quick against the Diocese but too slow on the real violators of the size of the poster. Brillantes, probably sensing that he has shown bias, released the names of senatorial candidates that the Comelec notified and warned to be probed.
Why “to be probed” and not file the case as Brillantes threatened the Diocese? Comelec sent notices (4 to Hontiveros alone) but was ignored.
Why the threat of an immediate filing of a case against the Diocese and removal of the tarpaulin? Why not the same action against the candidates who are covered by Resolution 9615?
Bacolod alone has plenty of oversized tarpaulins with the candidates' picture and name. Not yet election period? What happened to premature campaigning?
If there is anything oversized here, it is Comelec's bias.*
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