Thursday, May 28, 2015

Freedom of expression

FACTS:On February 21, 2013, petitioners posted two (2) tarpaulins within a private compound housing the San Sebastian Cathedral of Bacolod. Each tarpaulin was approximately six feet (6') by ten feet (10') in size. They were posted on the front walls of the cathedral within public view. The first tarpaulin contains the message "IBASURA RH Law" referring to the Reproductive Health Law of 2012 or Republic Act No. 10354. The second tarpaulin is the subject of the present case.4 This tarpaulin contains the heading "Conscience Vote" and lists candidates as either "(Anti-RH) Team Buhay" with a check mark, or "(Pro-RH) Team Patay" with an "X" mark.5 The electoral candidates were classified according to their vote on the adoption of Republic Act No. 10354, otherwise known as the RH Law.6 Those who voted for the passing of the law were classified by petitioners as comprising "Team Patay," while those who voted against it form "Team Buhay.
 On February 22, 2013, respondent Atty. Mavil V. Majarucon, in her capacity as Election Officer of Bacolod City, issued a Notice to Remove Campaign Materials8 addressed to petitioner Most Rev. Bishop Vicente M. Navarra. The election officer ordered the tarpaulin’s removal within three (3) days from receipt for being oversized. COMELEC Resolution No. 9615 provides for the size requirement of two feet (2’) by three feet (3’).9

QUESTION:  Is the order of the COMELEC correct?
ANSWER: No. The main subject of this case is an alleged constitutional violation: the infringement on speech and the "chilling effect" caused by respondent COMELEC’s notice and letter.
The tarpaulin in question may be viewed as producing a caricature of those who are running for public office.Their message may be construed generalizations of very complex individuals and party-list organizations.
They are classified into black and white: as belonging to "Team Patay" or "Team Buhay."
But this 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 anattempt to stereo type 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.
Some may have thought that there should be more room to consider being more broad-minded and non-judgmental. Some may have expected that the authors would give more space to practice forgiveness and humility.
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.
Freedom for the thought we can disagree with can be wielded not only by those in the minority. This can often be expressed by dominant institutions, even religious ones. That they made their point dramatically and in a large way does not necessarily mean that their statements are true, or that they have basis, or that they have been expressed in good taste.
Embedded in the tarpaulin, however, are opinions expressed by petitioners. It is a specie of expression protected by our fundamental law. It is an expression designed to invite attention, cause debate, and hopefully, persuade. It may be motivated by the interpretation of petitioners of their ecclesiastical duty, but their parishioner’s actions will have very real secular consequences. Certainly, provocative messages do matter for the elections.
What is involved in this case is the most sacred of speech forms: expression by the electorate that tends to rouse the public to debate contemporary issues. This is not speechby candidates or political parties to entice votes. It is a portion of the electorate telling candidates the conditions for their election. It is the substantive content of the right to suffrage.
This. is a form of speech hopeful of a quality of democracy that we should all deserve. It is protected as a fundamental and primordial right by our Constitution. The expression in the medium chosen by petitioners deserves our protection.

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

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