MANILA, Philippines – On the surface, the Supreme Court (SC) simply stopped the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from requiring a diocese to remove its oversized, thus illegal, campaign poster.
But Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr on Tuesday, March 5, said he fears wider-ranging effects.
“I am worried that the SC entertained this petition since the Comelec merely told them to remove the oversized campaign material, and just comply with the rule on the legal poster size,” Brillantes said in an interview with reporters.
He said this hours after the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) sought by the Diocese of Bacolod, which displayed a poster that classifies candidates as "Team Buhay (Team Life)" and "Team Patay (Team Death)."
The Diocese of Bacolod based its support on only one criterion: not the candidates' stance against corruption, for example, but merely their position on the reproductive health (RH) law.
“I don't really know the consequence of this TRO. It might encourage others to come out with similar illegal campaign propaganda,” Brillantes said.
For the first time in recent history, the Comelec is strictly implementing its campaign rules. The poll body has, in fact, threatened to sanction and even disqualify senatorial bets, topped by those from the administration ticket.
Unprecedented for Church
It is also the first time a Catholic diocese explicitly endorsed and denounced candidates in an election. (Read: What the campaign vs 'Team Patay' means.)
Despite listing the names of certain candidates, the diocese denied they used the poster for campaigning.
“The fact that it is the election period is only incidental to this fight. With or without national or local elections, the diocese (will) oppose the RH law until it is repealed or adequately amended or modified,” said Bacolod Diocese's lawyer Mitchelle Abella.
The diocese's poster, however, falls under Comelec's definition of election propaganda.
Comelec Resolution No. 9615 – which spares no one, even religious groups – however classifies “political advertisement” and “election propaganda” as “any matter broadcasted, published, printed, displayed, or exhibited... that is capable of being associated with a candidate or party, and is intended to draw the intention of the public or a segment thereof to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of the said candidate or candidates to a public office.”
The resolution does not ban propaganda by religious groups, but subjects all forms of propaganda to prescribed sizes. Posters like those of the Bacolod Diocese should not exceed the size of 2 feet by 3 feet, according to the Comelec.
The diocese's original poster measured 6 feet by 10 feet.
Priests against it, too
Even priests have raised their eyebrows on the Bacolod Diocese's posters. (Read Jesuit priest Joel Tabora's piece: Team Patay, Team Buhay: Unconscionable.)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI himself has disapproved of Church involvement in partisan politics, saying this may undermine the Church's credibility.
“If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions,” Benedict said in 2007. (Read: Pope would've slammed bid vs Team Patay.)
He explained: “The Church is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences, and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere.” – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.