MANILA - The chairman of the Commission on Elections fears that the restraining order issued by the Supreme Court in favor of Diocese of Bacolod in the case of the "Team Patay, Team Buhay" poster may be used by other parties to put up oversized election propaganda.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said that aside from being oversized, the poster also does not disclose who printed it.
"The first issue is - is it an election propaganda? If it is, it's oversized. It does not have the necessary printing (information)… Lahat na ng private entities can put oversized propaganda everywhere if that's the argument," he said.
Brillantes said that while the Fair Elections Act does not cover the poster, it is covered by the Omnibus Election Code provisions prescribing what are lawful election propaganda.
The poll official said lawyers seem to invoke the Fair Elections Act, which covers candidates and political parties. He pointed out that the Omnibus Election Code covers everybody.
Brillantes said he was surprised by the Supreme Court TRO stopping the Comelec order to pull down the poster.
He said the move being assailed are mere letters from their Bacolod election officer and the law department chair, Esmeralda Ladra.
Brillantes said that in so far as the commission en banc is concerned, there has been no order.
"Initially, di ko maintidihan ang procedure. Umakyat sila sa Supreme Court without an order from the commission. Good, so we can settle this issue once and for all especially now. It might encourage others to come out with illegal propaganda," he said.
He said even election lawyer Romulo Macalintal noted that the high court may not act on the petition of the Diocese of Bacolod without any order from the commission itself. Nevertheless, the poll chief said they are abiding by the TRO.
Brillantes said they will raise the issue of jurisdiction during the oral arguments. "We have to see first what specific matters were being restrained. I don't know nga ano nirerestrain? Are they restraining us from removing? Ang order ni Ladra is for them to remove it in 3 days. We are not going to remove it. Andun pa din. We will not be surprised now that all churches will start putting up this material."
The Comelec chief welcomed reports though that 5 dioceses, including Bacolod, will put up properly-sized posters side by side to give the impression of a big poster.
"That's exactly what I was suggesting. Paligiran nila maraming poster for as long as within size, OK lang."
Brillantes maintained that for the Comelec, it's all about the poster's size.
"Relihiyoso rin ako but it has nothing to do with religion. This is more about enforcement of election law provision. I'm surprised they are talking about separation of church and state, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Sukat lang ho pinag-uusapan natin dito," he said.
He said the poster is considered election propaganda subject to Comelec regulation. Should a case be filed over the poster, the complainant will be their local election officer before the law department. The law department will then make a recommendation for en banc consideration.
Brillantes said the Office of the Solicitor General will represent the Comelec in the oral arguments.
He, however, joked that if his longtime friend and fellow election lawyer, Romulo Macalintal argues, he may have to argue himself. "Pag si Attorney Macalintal a-argue, baka ako. Pero matagal na ako di tumatayo sa SC," he said.
Brillantes is scheduled to fly to the US for the preparations on overseas voting but he may have to forego this because of the oral arguments.