Veteran poll lawyers at odds over Bacolod oversized poster-A A +A
Friday, March 1, 2013
THE controversy sparked by the controversial "Team Patay/Team Buhay" tarpaulin of the Diocese of Bacolod has rekindled the rivalry between two prominent election lawyers.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes and lawyer Romulo Macalintal expressed opposing opinions over the legality of the oversized poster hanging outside the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City.
Brillantes and Macalintal has had legendary battles at the Comelec Session Hall during their time as election lawyers, foremost of which was when Brillantes was lawyering for 2004 presidential contender Fernando Poe Jr., while Macalintal was the counsel for then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
According to Macalintal, the Comelec does not have the power to direct the church to take down its poster despite being oversized since the place is considered a private property.
"Even if it is oversized, there is no case because the church is a private property and huge tarpaulins are no clear and present danger to the citizens," said Macalintal.
He added that the Comelec cannot regulate the poster outside the church since it cannot be considered as a propaganda or campaign material.
"It is part of its religious freedom to disseminate its religious position and messages to its parishioners, which the Comelec cannot prohibit by its rules on campaigning," said Macalintal.
Last week, the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City posted a large "Team Patay and Team Buhay" tarpaulin, which identifies both the anti and pro-Reproductive Health (RH) senatorial candidates.
The controversial tarpaulin was also said to be measuring six feet by 10 feet while the allowable size is only two feet by three feet.
Section 17 of Comelec Resolution 9615 states that posting of campaign materials are allowed in private places "provided it has the consent of the owner."
Violations of election laws is considered an election offense, which carries a penalty of one to six years imprisonment, removal of right to vote, and disqualification from seeking public office.
On Thursday, Brillantes said they are already set to file charges against those behind the posting of the tarpaulin citing the refusal of the Bacolod diocese to take down the poster.
The poll chief said that while he agrees with the fact that the church is a private property, his issue remains to be with the oversized poster’s presence.
"You can put propaganda materials there but it has to be lawful. Ang pinagu-usapan natin ay yung size. Gusto nila lagyan nila lahat ng simbahan ng buong Pilipinas for as long as it is two by three (feet). That is okay with us," Brillantes said.
He also reiterated that the concerned material is definitely a campaign material no matter how the proponents describe it.
"It is a campaign material no matter how you look at it. It is for and against (certain candidates)… They have all the right to campaign, come out with any campaign propaganda they like provided that it is lawful," he said.
Brillantes also said they also looking at another possible election offense that can be charged against the Diocese of Bacolod concerning the "coercion of subordinates."
Section 261 (d) (1) of the Omnibus Election Code states that it is unlawful for "any head, superior, or administrator of any religious organization... to coerce or intimidate or compel, or in any manner influence, directly or indirectly, any of his subordinates or members or parishioners... to aid, campaign or vote for or against any candidate or any aspirant for the nomination or selection of candidates."
Asked if he would lawyer for the church officials once election offense cases are filed against them, Macalintal said he would willingly "accept engagement" with the Bacolod diocese if it is sought. (HDT/Sunnex)