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Hontiveros cries 'election bullying'

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines - Expect more "Team Patay" tarps in other churches.

A day after the Supreme Court stopped the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from enforcing its order to the diocese of Bacolod to take down its "Team Buhay, Team Patay" tarps, the candidates of President Benigno Aquino III expressed mixed opinions on it.

The tarpaulins -- oversized, according to the Comelec -- divide certain senatorial candidates between "Team Patay" and "Team Buhay," depending on their stance on the controversial reproductive health law recently passed, a measure opposed by the Catholic Church.

Akbayan Rep Risa Hontiveros, one of the most active proponents of the law, lamented the decision and said the Church should admit its intentions. She is one of the candidates the Church has put under "Team Patay."

“If they wish to engage in partisan politics, they should at the very least have the integrity to admit so. They shouldn't hide behind voter's education, when it's clearly partisan campaigning," she said.

The case in the Supreme Court stems from a Comelec notice asking the diocese to take down the tarpaulins for being oversized, therefore breaking rules on election materials. The diocese has refused to take them down however, and said Comelec's order violated its freedom of expression.

They also said the Comelec order infringed on the concept of separation of Church and State.

Even before the court announced its issuance of a TRO, the Church's Episcopal Commission on Family and Life has said other dioceses would put up similar posters as the one in Bacolod.

Hontiveros called this "election bullying."

She added: “What’s happening is already a form of bullying, not voters’ education. The bishops who are endorsing the so-called Team Patay campaign seem to think that they are exempted from our election rules."

"No one is saying anti-RH bishops aren't allowed to express their opinions, but I hope they don't think they are exempt from election rules," she said. 

Mixed reactions

The other 6 senatorial bets listed under "Team Patay" by the Church, aside from Hontiveros, include 4 Team PNoy candidates -- Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Sonny Angara, and Alan Peter Cayetano -- in addition to Jack Enrile of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, and independent bet Teddy Casiño.

While Hontiveros asked the Church to be honest about engaging in "outright partisan election activity," Angara and Legarda refused to give advice to the Church and instead brushed off the court decision, saying they respected the bishops' opinion.

Angara said he may find it unfair, but he said it was the Church's prerogative.

Re-electionist Koko Pimentel, who is part of "Team Buhay," had a different stance on the issue. He defended the Church and its right to freedom of expression and religious exercise. He also disagreed with Hontiveros that the Church was practicing partisan politics.

"The strict regulations govern campaign paraphernalia. The poster was not meant to be campaign paraphernalia but a means of communicating with their parishioners," he said. "If I were the judge, I would resolve it for both freedom of expression and religious exercise. In this case, we should be more lenient with the Church."

Campaign manager Franklin Drilon also emphasized he has no problem with the Church expressing its beliefs or the content of the posters, but said it should follow Comelec's rules and downsize its tarpaulins. He said he believes voters would choose their candidates on their qualities, and not their view on just one issue. -