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THE DIOCESE OF BACOLOD V.

COMELEC
[GR. No. 205758; January 21, 2015]
Facts:
• The Diocese of Bacolod posted two tarpaulins (6x10 feet each) on the front wall of the San
Sebastian Cathedral of Bacolod (private property).
o The first tarpaulin contains the message “IBASURA ANG RH Law.”
o The second tarpaulin contains the heading “Conscience Vote,” and provides for a list of those who are either
Anti-RH (TEAM BUHAY), or Pro-RH (TEAM PATAY).
• In this case, the Diocese of Bacolod is seeking to nullify the following orders for being unconstitutional:
o The order of Election Officer Atty. Majarucon, directing them to remove the supposed
over-sized tarpaulins; and
o The order issued by COMELEC, directing them to immediately remove such tarpaulins, and threatening
them with the filing of an election offense
• The Supreme Court En Banc issued a TRO, enjoining the COMELEC from removing the tarpaulins.
Issue/s:
1) WON COMELEC the assailed notice and letter for the removal of the tarpaulin violated the Diocese’s
fundamental right to freedom of expression.
2) WON the order for removal of the tarpaulin is a content-based or content-neutral regulation.
3) WON there was violation of petitioners’ right to property.
4) WON the tarpaulin and its message are considered religious speech.
Held:
1) YES. These orders of COMELEC infringe on the right to freedom of expression of the petitioners.
COMELEC does not have the authority to regulate the enjoyment of the preferred right to freedom of
expression exercised by a non-candidate. Every citizen’s expression with political consequences enjoys a high
degree of protection. Moreover, the COMELEC’s argument that the tarpaulin is election propaganda, being the
Diocese’s 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.
2) The restriction imposed by the COMELEC is a 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. Content-based regulation bears a heavy presumption of invalidity, and the clear and present danger test
must be applied. In this case, COMELEC 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 else’s constitutional rights.
3) YES. The Court held that even though the tarpaulin is readily seen by the public, the tarpaulin remains the
private property of the Diocese. 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.

4) NO. 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.
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 government’s 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 person’s or institution’s religion.
The lemon test is applied to determine if a regulation is constitutional. Thus, 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.