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COMELEC
2015 CASE DIGEST: DIOCESE OF BACOLOD V. COMELEC
Published by admin on January 17, 2016 | Leave a response
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.
G.R. No. 205728

January 21, 2015

PONENTE: Leonen
TOPIC: Right to expression, right to political speech, right to property

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.
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. The electoral candidates were classified according to their vote on the
adoption of Republic Act No. 10354, otherwise known as the RH Law. 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.
Respondents conceded that the tarpaulin was neither sponsored nor paid
for by any candidate. Petitioners also conceded that the tarpaulin contains names
ofcandidates for the 2013 elections, but not of politicians who helped in the passage
of the RH Law but were not candidates for that election.
ISSUES:

1.

Whether or not the size limitation and its reasonableness of the tarpaulin is a
political question, hence not within the ambit of the Supreme Courts power of
review.

2.

Whether or not the petitioners violated the principle of exhaustion of


administrative remedies as the case was not brought first before the COMELEC En
Banc or any if its divisions.

3.

Whether or not COMELEC may regulate expressions made by private citizens.

4.

Whether or not the assailed notice and letter for the removal of the tarpaulin
violated petitioners fundamental right to freedom of expression.

5.

Whether the order for removal of the tarpaulin is a content-based or contentneutral regulation.

6.
7.

Whether or not there was violation of petitioners right to property.


Whether or not the tarpaulin and its message are considered religious
speech.

HELD:

FIRST ISSUE: No.


The Court ruled that the present case does not call for the exercise of
prudence or modesty. There is no political question. It can be acted upon by this
court through the expanded jurisdiction granted to this court through Article VIII,
Section 1 of the Constitution..
The concept of a political question never precludes judicial review when
the act of a constitutional organ infringes upon a fundamental individual or
collective right. Even assuming arguendo that the COMELEC did have the discretion
to choose the manner of regulation of the tarpaulin in question, it cannot do so by
abridging the fundamental right to expression.
Also the Court said that in our jurisdiction, the determination of whether
an issue involves a truly political and non-justiciable question lies in the answer to
the question of whether there are constitutionally imposed limits on powers or
functions conferred upon political bodies. If there are, then our courts are dutybound to examine whether the branch or instrumentality of the government
properly acted within such limits.
A political question will not be considered justiciable if there are no
constitutionally imposed limits on powers or functions conferred upon political

bodies. Hence, the existence of constitutionally imposed limits justifies subjecting


the official actions of the body to the scrutiny and review of this court.
In this case, the Bill of Rights gives the utmost deference to the right to
free speech. Any instance that this right may be abridged demands judicial scrutiny.
It does not fall squarely into any doubt that a political question brings.
SECOND ISSUE: No.
The Court held that the argument on exhaustion of administrative
remedies is not proper in this case.
Despite the alleged non-exhaustion of administrative remedies, it is clear
that the controversy is already ripe for adjudication. Ripeness is the prerequisite
that something had by then been accomplished or performed by either branch or in
this case, organ of government before a court may come into the picture.
Petitioners exercise of their right to speech, given the message and their
medium, had understandable relevance especially during the elections. COMELECs
letter threatening the filing of the election offense against petitioners is already an
actionable infringement of this right. The impending threat of criminal litigation is
enough to curtail petitioners speech.
In the context of this case, exhaustion of their administrative remedies as
COMELEC suggested in their pleadings prolongs the violation of their freedom of
speech.
THIRD ISSUE: No.
Respondents cite the Constitution, laws, and jurisprudence to support
their position that they had the power to regulate the tarpaulin. However, the Court
held that all of these provisions pertain to candidates and political parties.
Petitioners are not candidates. Neither do they belong to any political party.
COMELEC does not have the authority to regulate the enjoyment of the preferred
right to freedom of expression exercised by a non-candidate in this case.
FOURTH ISSUE: Yes.
The Court held that every citizens expression with political consequences
enjoys a high degree of protection.
Moreover, the respondents argument that the tarpaulin is election
propaganda, being petitioners way of endorsing candidates who voted against the
RH Law and rejecting those who voted for it, holds no water.
The Court held that 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.

By interpreting the law, it is clear that personal opinions are not included,
while sponsored messages are covered.
The content of the tarpaulin is a political speech
Political speech refers to speech both intended and received as a contribution to
public deliberation about some issue, fostering informed and civic minded
deliberation. On the other hand, commercial speech has been defined as speech
that does no more than propose a commercial transaction. The expression
resulting from the content of the tarpaulin is, however, definitely political speech.
FIFTH ISSUE: Content-based regulation.
Content-based restraint or censorship refers to restrictions based on the
subject matter of the utterance or speech. In contrast, content-neutral regulation
includes controls merely on the incidents of the speech such as time, place, or
manner of the speech.
The Court held that the regulation involved at bar is content-based. The
tarpaulin content is not easily divorced from the size of its medium.
Content-based regulation bears a heavy presumption of invalidity, and
this court has used the clear and present danger rule as measure.
Under this rule, the evil consequences sought to be prevented must be
substantive, extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high.
Only when the challenged act has overcome the clear and present danger rule will
it pass constitutional muster, with the government having the burden of overcoming
the presumed unconstitutionality.
Even with the clear and present danger test, respondents failed to justify
the regulation. There is no compelling and substantial state interest endangered by
the posting of the tarpaulin as to justify curtailment of the right of freedom of
expression. There is no reason for the state to minimize the right of non-candidate
petitioners to post the tarpaulin in their private property. The size of the tarpaulin
does not affect anyone elses constitutional rights.
SIXTH ISSUE: Yes.
The Court held that even though the tarpaulin is readily seen by the
public, the tarpaulin remains the private property of petitioners. Their right to use
their property is likewise protected by the Constitution.
Any regulation, therefore, which operates as an effective confiscation of
private property or constitutes an arbitrary or unreasonable infringement of
property rights is void, because it is repugnant to the constitutional guaranties of
due process and equal protection of the laws.

The Court in Adiong case held that a restriction that regulates where
decals and stickers should be posted is so broad that it encompasses even the
citizens private property. Consequently, it violates Article III, Section 1 of the
Constitution which provides that no person shall be deprived of his property without
due process of law.
SEVENTH ISSUE: No.
The Court held that the church doctrines relied upon by petitioners are
not binding upon this court. The position of the Catholic religion in the Philippines as
regards the RH Law does not suffice to qualify the posting by one of its members of
a tarpaulin as religious speech solely on such basis. The enumeration of candidates
on the face of the tarpaulin precludes any doubt as to its nature as speech with
political consequences and not religious speech.
Doctrine of benevolent neutrality
With religion looked upon with benevolence and not hostility, benevolent
neutrality allows accommodation of religion under certain circumstances.
Accommodations are government policies that take religion specifically into account
not to promote the governments favored form of religion, but to allow individuals
and groups to exercise their religion without hindrance. Their purpose or effect
therefore is to remove a burden on, or facilitate the exercise of, a persons or
institutions religion.
As Justice Brennan explained, the government may take religion into
account . . . to exempt, when possible, from generally applicable governmental
regulation individuals whose religious beliefs and practices would otherwise thereby
be infringed, or to create without state involvement an atmosphere in which
voluntary religious exercise may flourish.
Lemon test
A regulation is constitutional when:
1.

It has a secular legislative purpose;

2.

It neither advances nor inhibits religion; and

3.

It does not foster an excessive entanglement with religion.