The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will file criminal charges against officials of the Catholic Church if they continue to refuse to take down an “oversized” campaign material hung outside a cathedral in Bacolod City, Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said Thursday.
Brillantes said the Comelec had written Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra and ordered him to take down the tarpaulin at San Sebastian Cathedral, which identified the senatorial candidates that Catholics should support and reject based on their position on the reproductive health (RH) law.
The Comelec chair said the tarpaulin should be taken down because it exceeded the allowable size for campaign materials.
“If they don’t take it out, we will simply charge them … You don’t enjoy privileges just because you belong to the Catholic Church or what,” Brillantes said in an interview.
Those violating Comelec rules on campaign posters commit an election offense punishable by up to six years’ imprisonment.
“They wrote us saying, ‘We will remove it only after you clarify certain points.’ In a sense, they will not remove it. We wrote back and told them to take it down and then we talk,” Brillantes said.
“In my opinion, if everybody will say, ‘We will not take this down until we say so,’ what is this? … (If we let that pass), we won’t be able to go after anyone. My position is when we say, ‘Take it out,’ that is our finding,” he added.
Brillantes said the Comelec ordered Bishop Navarra to “immediately take down” the tarpaulin, because it comes under the category of “campaign propaganda material,” and should therefore follow the Comelec rules on the size of campaign materials.
“The Supreme Court has said that even product endorsements, which have nothing to do with elections, should be considered as propaganda,” he said.
“Here, the candidates are clearly named (under) Team Buhay … Team Patay … That is an endorsement of candidates. Definitely, that’s campaign propaganda material,” he added.
Brillantes said the Comelec is now in the process of determining the actual owner of the tarpaulin or the person who ordered it hung.
“They could have made it smaller … If I were them, I would have taken it down and replaced it with one normal in size and there would be no problem,” Brillantes said.
Msgr. Joselito Asis, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the Church was ready to cut down the tarpaulin so that it would conform with Comelec rules.
“I think the case can be easily resolved because the size is not a big deal. They could always follow the size (prescribed by Comelec). That is very easy to remedy,” Asis said.
Other Catholic archdioceses and dioceses in the country like Lipa, Tarlac, Sorsogon and Borongan are reportedly planning to put up similar tarpaulins to guide voters on who to vote for in the coming elections. With a report by Carla Gomez, Inquirer Visayas