Lawyers of Comelec, Bacolod diocese tangle over ‘tarpaulin issue’
MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections and the Diocese of Bacolod on Tuesday tangled over the validity of the poll body’s order to remove the ‘‘Team Patay’’ and ‘‘Team Buhay’’ tarpaulins hanging in front of the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City.
During oral arguments held before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, representing the poll body, said the Diocese of Bacolod violated the hierarchy of courts when it went straight to the Supreme Court instead of exercising all possible remedies.
He also maintained that the tarpaulins displayed in front of the cathedral is clearly an election propaganda.
“The net effect of the text and visual is telling the public to support the candidates who voted against the RH Law,” Jardeleza said.
Atty. Ralph Sarmiento, representing the diocese, insisted that Comelec Resolution 9615 should only cover candidates but is invalid when applied to petitioner (Diocese of Bacolod).
Sarmiento also said that they did not see anything wrong with the listing of the names on the tarpaulins.
He said the purpose of the tarpaulin is to “awaken the conscience of the people” and to inform the public of the church’s stand.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said “In a world where regulation is required to have order, even Jesus would want His disciples to follow regulation.’’
She then asked Sarmiento why the tarpaulins can’t be made in the prescribed size required by Comelec which is 2 x 3 feet.
The diocese originally hanged a single tarpaulin listing candidates into what it called ‘‘Team Patay’’ and others into what it called ‘‘Team Buhay’’.
Members of ‘‘Team Patay’’ are Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Risa Hontiveros, Teddy Casiño and Jack Enrile.
Party-list groups Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Akbayan and Anak Pawis are also on the list.
On the other hand, senatorial bets Joseph Victor Ejercito-Estrada, Antonio Trillanes, Gregorio Honasan, Mitos Magsaysay, Koko Pimentel and Cynthia Villar are on the ‘Team Buhay’ list for opposing the RH law.
When Comelec ordered the diocese to remove the tarpaulin for being oversized, the church instead cut it in half but continued to hang them.
The diocese then went to the high court and asked it to declare the Comelec order unconstitutional and an infringement on its right to free expression and on the principle of separation of church and state.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, for his part, asked Sarmiento if the diocese, in claiming that it is a private citizen, believed it can put up tarpaulins of all sizes.
Another high court justice, Jose Perez, followed Carpio’s line, asking Sarmiento if what he was saying was that there could be no limitation, that it was beyond the authority of the Comelec.
When Sarmiento said ‘‘yes’’, Perez said such interpretation causes absurdity. ‘‘By giving a new interpretation of the law, there is an attempt to get out of the prohibition’’, Perez said.
Carpio also said the law did not limit penalty to candidates and political parties who violated limits with regards to posting of tarpaulins and other campaign paraphernalia.
“The law does not say violation of this act by candidates and political parties, this law is not limited to candidates. It applies to the public,” Carpio said.
After the oral argument, the high court ordered both parties to submit a memoranda on or before April 1.