The Diocese of Bacolod led by its Bishop, Vicente Navarra, conferred on lawyers Ralph Sarmiento, Raymundo Pandan, Romulo Macalintal and Lyndon Cana the St. Thomas More Diocesan Award in a ceremony held during the morning mass at the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City on Sunday.
Lawyer Mitchelle Abella, a former St. Thomas More awardee, was also presented a Certificate of Recognition.
The award was conferred on the lawyers for their professional services when the Diocese of Bacolod faced an election offense case at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) when the Diocese posted in the façade of its San Sebastian Cathedral the controversial “Team Buhay/Team Patay” tarpaulin. The tarpaulin contained the names of senatorial candidates and the party list groups classified into “Team Patay” and “Team Buhay” in the 2013 elections.
The Comelec ordered the removal of the tarpaulin for being allegedly oversized, prompting the Diocese of Bacolod led by Navarra to question the order of the Comelec before the Supreme Court.
On January 20, 2015 the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Comelec order and sustained the right of the Diocese to display tarpaulin, since the cathedral is a private property of the Church.
The awards received by the lawyers from Navarra consisted of a bronze bust of St. Thomas More and a Plaque of Recognition.
Macalintal, an election lawyer, was the first non-resident of Bacolod City to be conferred the award for serving as consultant of the diocese in the case against the Comelec.
In his acceptance speech, Macalintal said the tarpaulin “was once an ordinary tarpaulin only. But now it is a legend. It has attained a celebrity status of its own. It is a manifestation and solid evidence of the audacity and fortitude of the Diocese of Bacolod in standing up for the truth and fighting for the rights its parishioners in the exercise of their constitutional right of suffrage.”
Macalintal said that the decision of the High Tribunal emphasized the Comelec “has no authority to regulate the enjoyment of the preferred right to freedom of expression exercised by a non-candidate since all the provisions of election laws pertain to candidates and political parties.”
“Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that Bishop Navarra and the Diocese of Bacolod not being candidates nor being members of any political party cannot be prevented from posting the said tarpaulin in the premises of its cathedral since it is a private property and the size of the said tarpaulin does not affect anyone else’s constitutional rights,” he added.