Barring gay rights group in 2010 race ‘unlawful’

By Lilita Balane, Newsbreak

Posted at Nov 19 2009 12:55 AM | Updated as of Nov 19 2009 09:15 AM

MANILA - Ang Ladlad, a party list applicant, has called on the poll body to junk a controversial decision prohibiting the group from joining the 2010 elections due to immorality.

In its motion for reconsideration filed Friday afternoon, Ang Ladlad explained that the Commission on Elections violated several provisions of the Constitution and failed to establish the group's immorality--a basis for disqualification.

"No evidence on record establishes the immorality of the petitioner. In the first place just as a juridical entity may not suffer moral damages apart from its incorporator, director, officer, and any one member, so Ladlad may not be deemed to be immoral on account simply of the unsubstantiated belief that its members are engaged in any such immoral practice," the motion said.

The Comelec has rejected the application of Ang Ladlad for the party list on the ground that it "tolerates immorality, which offends religious beliefs."

Immorality was not specified in Republic Act 7941, the party list law, as a ground for banning a group from the party list race. But the Section 6.2 of the party list law says that a group may be denied party-list participation if "it advocates violence or unlawful means to seek its goal."

Ang Ladlad said that Comelec cannot simply presume that the group condones perverse or criminal acts just because they hope to represent the gay community in the House. The group said that it declared in its application that it will not resort to any unlawful acts to achieve its goals, which the Comelec acknowledged.

Violation

Ang Ladlad insisted that they had not violated any election-related law. They said the election body's decision against them violated no less than the Constitution.

Among the laws allegedly disregarded by the Comelec included Article 3, Section 5 of the Constitution. It states that "no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights".

The group cited the 2003 Supreme Court ruling on Estrada vs Escritor case. The Court explained that the terms "immorality" or "morals" referred to in the law, including those in the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code, are not of religious nature but of public and secular sort. Thus, Ang Ladlad said that the Comelec should be neutral in making decisions.

"If government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief," the SC decision said.

Rights

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers reiterated Ang Ladlad's argument that, based on the law, "no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights."

Former senator Rene Saguisag, who now chairs the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, said in a letter addressed to the Comelec that the Constitution guarantees equal protection before the law.

"The government must see each individual as one who cries, laughs, fears, and dreams, just like the rest of us. Each citizen is said to be a particle of popular sovereignty, not to be insulted by any public servant whose salary he helps pay, with all due respect," Saguisag said refering to the exchange of heated words between Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer and Ang Ladlad's president Danton Remoto.

Remoto, right after the resolution was issued, called Ferrer a "very old man with obsolete ideas on homosexuality."

In an interview, Remoto said that he would accept an apology from Ferrer for making a lapse in legal judgement.

Ferrer, however, was firm in his decision and said that there's no reason to apologize.

"Why should I apologize? I am not that crazy. If there's anybody that should apologize, it should be them [Ang Ladlad], because they do not understand the resolution," Ferrer said adding that the Comelec carefully studied Ang Ladlad's petition.

Ferrer said that there is nothing wrong in resorting to what he learned his religion when judging what is moral and what is not "How do we resolve matters of morality? Through our background," he added admitting that he attended Catechism when he was in grade school.

Women's party-list group Gabriela and Akbayan party-list had scored the Comelec earlier for making decisions for party lists on the basis of religious beliefs. Akbayan's Risa Hontiveros said that it could be a ground to impeach the poll officials who decided on Ang Ladlad's case.

Ferrer challenged his critics to do what they want to do, instead of issuing statements and hitting the election officials personally. "Instead of vocalizing what you intend to do, do it. This is a free country. We are not preventing them from doing what they think should be done. They should not also prevent us from doing something that we believe should be done," he said.