BACOLOD CITY, Philippines—Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra said Thursday he would not take down an oversized tarpaulin listing the names of candidates his diocese supports and those it spurns as directed by the Commission on Elections but would instead put up more such posters at other churches in the diocese.
Navarra was responding to a directive from Esmeralda Amora-Ladra, director of the Comelec’s legal department, that he remove the “Team Patay/Team Buhay” tarpaulin in front of the San Sebastian Cathedral. She warned the bishop could be charged with an election offense if the poster was not removed.
Amora-Ladra’s letter addressed to Navarra was sent by fax to the Comelec Bacolod office on Wednesday night.
But Navarra remained defiant.
He told a news conference on Thursday that the diocese’s Team Buhay/Team Patay tarpaulin would be replicated at other Catholic churches throughout the Bacolod diocese.
He said also that the Diocese of Tarlac had informed him that similar tarpaulins would be installed in churches in the province.
Navarra maintained that the tarpaulin was not put up to spite anyone. The diocese was expressing its stand that the Reproductive Health Law must be repealed because it was an insult to God, he said.
“Infringing on the right to life was an infringement on all other rights,” he added.
Navarra’s lawyers also maintained that the order of the Comelec to take down the tarpaulin was both unconstitutional and a threat.
“The tarpaulin is not illegal. It will not be taken down. And the bishop is prepared to go to jail if necessary to stand up for what he believes in although that is not likely to happen,” said Ralph Sarmiento, dean of the University of Saint La Salle College of Law in Bacolod City.
He said at the same news conference that he and the bishop’s legal team would defend the bishop and the Diocese of Bacolod and their freedom of expression.
Aside from Sarmiento, other members of the panel fielding questions at the press conference were Mitchelle Abella and Raymundo Pandan Jr.
Sarmiento said the Diocese didn’t violate any Comelec rule because the tarpaulin was not an election campaign material but a continuation of the Diocese’s campaign against the Reproductive Health Law.
Last Feb. 22, Bacolod Election Officer Mavil Majarucon-Sia asked Navarra to remove the tarpaulin that identified the senatorial candidates who should be supported and those who should be rejected because of their position on the RH Law.
Seven senatorial candidates have been tagged by the diocese as members of “Team Patay.” They are Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Teddy Casiño and Jack Enrile.
The partylist groups Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Akbayan and Anak Pawis are also on the “Team Patay” list.
The six senatorial candidates on the diocese’s “Team Buhay” are Joseph Victor Ejercito-Estrada, Antonio Trillanes, Gregorio Honasan, Mitos Magsaysay, Koko Pimentel and Cynthia Villar.
The Comelec said the diocese violated the election law that limits the size of campaign posters.
The diocese’s tarpaulin is six feet by 10 feet while the allowable size is only two feet by three feet.
Amora-Ladra in her letter called on the Catholic Church to set an example.
“We pray that the Catholic Church will be the first institution to help the Commission on Elections in ensuring the conduct of peaceful, orderly, honest and credible elections,” Amora-Ladra wrote.