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Case Digest

CASE DIGEST: THE DIOCESE OF BACOLOD vs. COMELEC G.R. No. 205728, January 21, 2015

THE DIOCESE OF BACOLOD, REPRESENTED BY THE MOST REV. BISHOP VICENTE M. NAVARRA and THE BISHOP HIMSELF IN HIS PERSONAL CAPACITY v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND THE ELECTION OFFICER OF BACOLOD CITY, ATTY. MAVIL V. MAJARUCON G.R. No. 205728, January 21, 2015, LEONEN, J. 

FACTS

Bishop Vicente M. Navarra posted two (2) tarpaulins, each with approximately six feet (6′) by ten feet (10′) in size, for public viewing within the vicinity of San Sebastian Cathedral of Bacolod. One of the tarpaulins stated: “Conscience Vote” and lists of candidates as either “(Anti-RH) Team Buhay” with a check mark or “(Pro-RH) Team Patay” with an “X” mark.The electoral candidates were classified according to their vote on the adoption of the RH Law. 

Those who voted for the passing of the law were classified as comprising “Team Patay,” while those who voted against it form “Team Buhay. 

When the said tarpaulin came to the attention of Comelec, it sent a letter to Bishop Navarra ordering the immediate removal of the tarpaulin because it was in violation of Comelec Resolution No. 9615 as the lawful size for election propaganda material is only two feet (2’) by three feet (3’); otherwise, it will be constrained to file an election offense against the latter. 

Concerned about the imminent threat of prosecution for their exercise of free speech, Bishop Navarra, et al. prayed for the Court to declare the questioned orders of Comelec as unconstitutional, and permanently restraining the latter from enforcing them after notice and hearing. 

ISSUE: 

Whether or not the controversial tarpaulin is an election propaganda which the Comelec has the power to regulate; otherwise its prohibition shall constitute an abridgment of freedom of speech.

RULING: 

It is not election propaganda.

While the tarpaulin may influence the success or failure of the named candidates and political parties, this does not necessarily mean it is election propaganda. The tarpaulin was not paid for or posted “in return for consideration” by any candidate, political party, or party-list group. 

Personal opinions, unlike sponsored messages, are not covered by the second paragraph of Sec. 1(4) of Comelec Resolution No. 9615 defining “political advertisement” or “election propaganda.” 

The caricature, though not agreeable to some, is still protected speech. That petitioners chose to categorize them as purveyors of death or of life on the basis of a single issue—and a complex piece of legislation at that—can easily be interpreted as an attempt to stereotype the candidates and party- list organizations. Not all may agree to the way their thoughts were expressed, as in fact there are other Catholic dioceses that chose not to follow the example of petitioners. 

But, the Bill of Rights enumerated in our Constitution is an enumeration of our fundamental liberties. It is not a detailed code that prescribes good conduct. It provides space for all to be guided by their conscience, not only in the act that they do to others but also in judgment of the acts of others. 

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