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BACOLOD BISHOP: JAIL ME!

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front_navarra1‘Team Patay’ tarpaulin legal, Bacolod diocese insists

By EUGENE ADIONG

BACOLOD City — Bishop Vicente Navarra of the Diocese of Bacolod is willing to go to jail if only to defend the tarpaulin displayed at the San Sebastian Cathedral campaigning against senatorial candidates who favored the then Reproductive Health Bill.

“It is not aimed to spite anyone but an expression of the truth,” he said.

The diocese’s legal team, meanwhile, said the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) letter telling off Navarra for allegedly violating campaign rules was a “threat” to the bishop’s and the diocese’s  rights as private individual and private entity.

In a press conference yesterday at the Bishop’s Palace, Atty. Ralph Sarmiento, dean of the College of Law of the University of St. La Salle and head of the diocese’s legal team, said the Comelec order for the tarpaulin’s removal was “legally and morally wrong.”

The tarpaulin stands on private property owned by the diocese and is thus protected by private rights under the Constitution, he stressed.

The tarpaulin calls for the rejection of senatorial candidates who favored what has now become a reproductive health law (Republic Act 103540). It calls these candidates “Team Patay.”

Esmeralda Amora-Ladra, director of the Comelec’s Law Department, faxed a letter to Navarra stating that the tarpaulin was “found to be in violation of Comelec Resolution No. 9615 promulgated on January 15, 2013, particularly on the size (even with the subsequent division of the said tarpaulin into two).”

According to Amora-Ladra, the lawful size for election propaganda material is only two feet by three feet.

“Please order/cause (the) immediate removal of said election propaganda material, otherwise, we shall be constrained to file an election offense case against you,” Amora-Ladra told Navarra.

Sarmiento, however, said the bishop and the diocese are neither candidates nor political parties covered by election laws.

The tarpaulin as measured by the staff of Comelec-Bacolod was six feet by 10 feet. The upper half featured “Team Buhay” (those against the Reproductive Health Bill) and the lower half featured “Team Patay.”

To get around the size issue, the diocese halved the long tarpaulin, thereby making two albeit smaller tarpaulins.

Sarmiento said the tarpaulin is an expression of Catholic Church doctrine, thus ordering its removal would be violative of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

“The Comelec order also violates the constitutional principle of the separation of Church and State because it is an attempt by the State to step on a purely religious matter that concerns its moral authority over the welfare of its members,” stressed Sarmiento.

Under “Team Patay” are Sen. Francis Escudero, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, former Akbayan party-list representative Risa Hontiveros, Sen. Loren Legarda, Cong. Jackie Enrile, Cong. Teddy Casiño and Cong. Juan Edgardo Angara.

Under “Team Buhay” are Cong. Joseph Victor Ejercito-Estrada, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Cong. Mitos Magsaysay and former congresswoman Cynthia Villar.

Another lawyer of the diocese, Mitchell Abella, said Navara had not received an official copy of the Comelec order, only a faxed copy delivered late Wednesday night.

Navarra said neither had he received any order from Bishop Lito Asis, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, to take down the tarpaulin.

He also said a series of consultations with the diocese’s clergy and lay groups were held before the tarpaulin was displayed.

Sarmiento said they will “exhaust all legal means to protect the bishop,” even if the case goes up to the Supreme Court./PN