Day of reckoning

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    “IT IS an endorsement of candidates. Definitely [that is] campaign propaganda. [There are no] privileges just because you belong to the church.”

    Thus spoke Commission on Elections chair Sixto Brillantes as he ordered to take down the Team Patay-Team Buhay tarpaulin put up at the façade of the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City.

    Brillantes argued the notice was oversized – at 6 feet by 10 feet – and therefore violated the prescribed size of 2 feet by 3 feet.

    A defiant Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra refused, holding that the diocese was expressing its stand that the Reproductive Health Law must be repealed because it was an insult to God.

    “Infringing on the right to life was an infringement on all other rights,” the prelate declared.

    As everyone by now knows, Team Patay comprised senatoriables who voted in favour of the RH Bill: Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Risa Hontiveros, Teddy Casiño and Jack Enrile. Along with party-list groups Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Akbayan and Anak Pawis.

    Team Buhay on the other hand are the anti-RH bloc of Joseph Victor Ejercito-Estrada, Antonio Trillanes, Gregorio Honasan, Mitos Magsaysay, Koko Pimentel and Cynthia Villar and party-list groups Buhay and Ang Pamilya.

    Bishop Navarra found a supporter in foremost election lawyer Romulo Macalintal who said the tarpaulin is “an exercise of religious freedom, not a form of campaigning, but part of voter’s education.”

    Argued Romy Mac: “The church cannot be prevented by Comelec from putting up their huge tarpaulin of ‘buhay’ and ‘patay’ candidates, even if oversized since the church is a private property. It’s 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.”

    Adding: “Strictly speaking, the church is not ‘campaigning’ but merely reiterating and giving emphasis on the Church’s stand against the RH Bill.”

    Last Friday, Bishop Navarra filed a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and injunction asking the Supreme Court to stop the Comelec from enforcing its order for the city’s diocese to remove the tarpaulin.

    This, even as Akbayan party-list and other groups earlier appealed to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to restrain the other dioceses in the country from following the Bacolod bishop’s initiative.

    “To campaign for and against particular candidates in the coming elections impinges on the constitutional guarantees to a secular society. Thus, we call on the CBCP, being the official organization of the Catholic hierarchy, to ask its members not to mimic the discordant campaign initiated by the Diocese of Bacolod,” they said in a letter delivered to the CBCP gates.

    The Akbayan appeal may have come too late.

    The Archdiocese of Lipa and the Dioceses of Tarlac, Borongan, and Sorsogon are reported to be already set to make the similar move.

    And Msgr. Joselito Asis, CBCP secretary general, sees nothing wrong with the initiatives of individual bishops:

    “The pastoral statement is very clear the CBCP denounces the RH law. Now, as to how to implement that in every diocese that’s already up to the bishops.”

    With that, it would not take a papal bull to move more dioceses and parishes to post their patay-buhay lists 
    Question that is already stupid to ask but is still asked: Is the Church beginning to flex its muscles in the political realm?

    The Team Patay should have seen this coming at the height of the debates on the RH Bill.

    Bishops and priests were already loudly warning of a political backlash against the RH promoters then.

    No less than Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, astute a politician as he is, had cautioned both Houses then that there may not be a “solid Catholic vote” but there is such a thing as “Catholic influence” permeating through all communities through the parish churches.

    May 13 then is the day of reckoning. 

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