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Church-Comelec tarp war rages; poll raps readied

By , Carmel Loise Matus Carla Gomez

The tarp war is still on.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is giving the diocese of Bacolod until today to get relief from the Supreme Court or face charges for refusing to take down from the facade of San Sebastian Cathedral in Negros Occidental an oversized political tarpaulin for and against certain senatorial candidates on the basis of their stand on the reproductive health (RH) law.

“If the Supreme Court doesn’t come out with anything [today], no temporary restraining order, nothing, we will proceed with the investigation. We will file, ‘motu proprio,’ (on its own initiative) charges for preliminary investigation,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said in a briefing.

He wondered why the Church had to go to the high tribunal merely on the basis of a letter from the Comelec.

Filing of charges

“The only thing that we’ve sent so far is a letter coming from [the law department] telling them to remove it in three days,” Brillantes said. “What will they tell the SC? Anyway, let’s just see if they will be able to get relief from the court.”

But should the diocese of Bacolod fail to get one on Tuesday, Brillantes said the Comelec’s law department, headed by lawyer Esmeralda Ladra, would push through with the filing of charges for a preliminary investigation.

“These charges will not be filed in court yet… this is just for preliminary investigation by the Comelec,” he said.

On Friday, Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra asked the high tribunal to stop the Comelec from implementing its order to remove the controversial “Team Patay (Death) and Team Buhay (Life)” tarpaulins mounted in front of San Sebastian Cathedral in the city.

Urgent petition

Navarra sought an urgent petition for certiorari and prohibition, asking the high court to declare the Comelec order “unconstitutional and void.”

The diocese refused to take down the oversized posters, maintaining that the Comelec order was unconstitutional because it infringed on the petitioners’ freedom of expression and violated the principle of separation of Church and State.

The diocese tagged seven senatorial candidates as members of Team Patay for supporting the RH law.

They are Senators Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda and Alan Peter Cayetano, and Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño as well as former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros.

Party-list groups Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Akbayan and Anakpawis are also on the Team Patay list.

Of the seven senatorial candidates on the Team Patay list, five belong to Team PNoy (Escudero, Legarda and Cayetano, Angara and Hontiveros), one is an independent (Casiño) and the seventh, Enrile, is with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

Of the six senatorial candidates listed on Team Buhay for opposing the RH law, three belong to UNA. They are Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Rep. Joseph Victor Estrada and Rep. Mitos Magsaysay.

The other three candidates—Cynthia Villar and Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Koko Pimentel—are with Team PNoy.

Hoping for a TRO

Ralph Sarmiento, lawyer of Navarra and the diocese, said they were hoping that the Supreme Court en banc would calendar and act on the petition to declare the Comelec order unconstitutional and to issue a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction this morning.

Sarmiento said the diocese took the risk of invoking the high court’s extraordinary jurisdiction because the case involved the protection of constitutional rights.

“The normal procedure is that you have to respect the hierarchy of courts where the Supreme Court is just a last resort,” he said.

Right venue

Brillantes said the the Comelec’s preliminary investigation would be the right venue for the diocese to explain its side.

In Cebu City on Sunday, Vice President Jejomar Binay said the tarpaulin could not be considered an endorsement for the candidates.

Binay noted that the candidates listed on the tarpaulin came from different parties.

“The Church is only saying (that) these are the people who voted for the RH bill,” he said.

Binay also noted that the tarpaulin did not have the words “vote for,” adding that the tarpaulin was on private property.

Wait for court response

Since the Church has brought the matter to the Supreme Court, Binay said it would be better to wait for the high court’s decision.

Binay was in Cebu to attend the 43rd birthday celebration of the Cebu CFI Community Cooperative on Sunday. He was the keynote speaker. With him were Magsaysay and former Sen. Dick Gordon.

In the same Comelec briefing, Ladra said her office would issue subpoenas to Piston Land Transportation Coalition Inc. and the Kabataan party-list group over their alleged failure to take down illegal posters despite a notice from the election body.

“We are now preparing for the subpoenas to be sent,” Ladra told reporters.

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Tags: Bacolod diocese , Catholic Church , Commission on Elections (Comelec) , Elections , Philippines , Politics , Supreme Court , tarp war

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