SC stops Comelec from taking down Team Buhay/Patay tarpaulin

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By Mikha Flores, VERA Files

The oversized tarpaulin bearing the names of senatorial and party-list candidates who were for and against the controversial Reproductive Health Bill will remain hanging outside a Bacolod church after the Supreme Court stopped the Commission on Elections from taking down the campaign material.

The high court issued Tuesday a temporary restraining order stopping Comelec from removing the Team Buhay/Team Patay Conscience Votetarpaulin. It directed the poll body to answer within 10 days the petition filed by the Diocese of Bacolod and set the case for oral arguments on March 19.

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr., who has said that their issue with the campaign material was its size, warned that the TRO might set a precedentin how campaign materials within private property might now be treated."It might encourage others to come out with all of those illegal propagandas,” he said.

Brillantes said they are not prohibiting the Church from posting election propaganda but only asking that the materialsconform with the size set by law.

"I think the first issue would be: is it an election propaganda material? If it is, then it is oversized and it does not have the necessary printing," Brillantes said. "We're not even raising any other issue. Sukatlang ho (It’s just the size)," he added.

While Comelec recognizes the Church as a private property free to post campaign propaganda,the posters should still adhere to the limits set by law. The tarpaulin in questionmeasures 6 by 10 feet, way above the legal limit of 2 by 3 feet set under the Fair Election Act.

Church officials said similar Team Buhay/Patay posters will be put up in other dioceses around the country. Fr. Melvin Castro of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said they are planning to put up similar posters in Lipa, Batangas; Tarlac; Sorsogon; Kidapawan, Cotabato; and Borongan, Samar.

"We will not be surprised now that all the churches throughout the country will start putting this kind of a material and we will not be able to do anything about it," Brillantes said.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)