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Bishops under fire for election posters

Clergy accused of political interference

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: February 27, 2013 08:22 AM GMT

Updated: February 27, 2013 03:52 PM GMT

Bishops under fire for election posters
Activists outside the bishops' conference's offices urge the Church to end its campaign

Church leaders have been accused of "unprecedented interference" in an election campaign, after they intensified their campaign against politicians who supported the recent passage of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) law.

The campaign started last week in Bacolod diocese where huge posters of senatorial candidates, who supported the RH law and are running for office in this May's elections, were hung outside San Sebastian Cathedral. 

The posters described the politicians as belonging to a "Team Death." 

The country's election commission has warned Church leaders that posters violate election rules and various groups have urged an end to the campaign. 

"It makes the process of dialogue, healing and reconciliation extremely difficult," said Guy Claudio, leader of political party Akbayan.

Church leaders are "distracting the public from the crucial task of choosing leaders who can address pressing issues confronting the nation," he said.

Political analyst Earl Parreno said the bishops have "crossed a constitutional line” by "naming names."

He said this was the first time Church leaders have listed names of candidates to vote or not to vote for in elections. The bishops' conference only used to issue guidelines for voters, he added.

"It is dangerous because it will create a precedent for future issues that will rebound even on the Church," Parreno said. "It will erode the moral high ground and credibility of the Church."

He also maintained that, by only supporting opponents of the RH Law, the bishops could be endorsing candidates "with questionable backgrounds, such as alleged involvement in corruption."

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But Mitchelle Abella, counsel for the Bacolod diocese, said the main message of the posters was not about the May elections, but about the rejection of the Reproductive Health Law. 

He said the diocese campaign is covered by the "broader constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and conscience."

Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the campaign "has caught on." Other dioceses intend to follow suit, he said on Wednesday.

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