Culion parish priest Rev. Fr. Roderick Caabay has denounced the taking down of campaign billboards put up inside chapel properties urging for a “no” vote in the March plebiscite on the division of Palawan.
Fr. Caabay told Palawan News in an interview that some of their 47 campaign billboards had been systematically removed or destroyed by a group of unidentified “hood and mask-wearing” individuals. He said these billboards had been put up in various locations within church jurisdictions in different barangays.
“Naka-mask sila at hood. They did it in the evening,” Fr. Caabay said.
He claimed that the perpetrators are linked to “current political leadership.”
“Ordinary people of Culion are respectful of the church and information like this. I only have one suspect, it’s the current political leadership. This has been their modus ever since, the suppression of dissent, pananakot ng mga maliit na tao,” Fr. Caabay said.
He said that the tarpaulin billboard they put up on December 23 in Barangay Balala was removed on January 3, 2021. The other campaign materials that were also destroyed were in the chapels in the villages of Osmeña, Patag, and Baldat.
“Ang tarpaulin natin nakalagay sa mga simbahan ay tinanggal January 3 , 14, 17 at 19. Tinanggal nila at ito’y nakakabit mismo sa loob ng bakuran ng chapels at sa wall nito. Sa may chapel ng [Barangay] Balala. Ang ginawa natin ay may plywood at naka-frame at naka-gun tack pero ginamitan nila ng cutter”, he said.
“We really feel insulted and disappointed because of the disrespect. Kasi, unang-una, doon sa kawalan ng kalayaan natin para ipahayag ang ating paninidigan. This is a total disrespect kasi nasa loob ang mga ito ng simbahan at hinahablot pa nila ito. I am really reacting to this kasi hindi lang ito ngayon,” Caabay added.
“They can’t even respect the basic right to freedom of speech or expression. Nakakatakot ito,” he said.
Fr. Caabay said they have asked chapel leaders to be on guard to prevent further similar incidents. He added that they have also transferred some to “safer” locations.
Fr. Caabay claimed that there is nothing wrong with their campaign against the creation of three provinces.
“This is part of giving information to the general public, walang magiging problema ‘yan, at kahit saan dapat walang gumagalaw nyan,” he said.
Fr. Caabay said the plebiscite is not only about voting Yes or No. It is about respecting the rights of the people of Palawan to freely choose what their vote will be without any fear or coercion or retaliation.
“What is happening is an abuse of power. People in the government using their resources and influence, curtailing peoples’ rights to make their stand and form their decisions. If this is not a democracy, then it must be tyranny and dictatorship in the offing,” he said.
“Ang call ko sa kanilang ay respeto dahil ‘yan ay paglabag sa ating freedom of expression, pangalawa ay respeto sa simbahan at sa mga tao,” Caabay said.
Reaction from Capitol
Provincial government spokesperson Winston Arzaga flatly denied the provincial government has anything to do with the incident.
“Paano naman niya nasabi [na may kinalaman kami]? Nakita ba niya kung sino ang sumira?” he said.
He said the provincial government has other priorities including the vaccination program and will not resort to the alleged destruction of the tarpaulins. He also criticized Fr. Caabay’s taking to social media to accuse them.
“Hindi ito paglabag sa freedom of expression, it is a police issue. Kung may sumira ay dapat ini-report nila sa tanod, sa barangay or sa police para naman mabantayan. Instead of posting in social media dapat ini-report na lang. We have so many problems na dapat asikasuhin para lang manira ng isang tarpaulin,” Arzaga said.
“Baka naman COMELEC ang nagpatanggal kasi ang aga-aga naman ng paglagay nila ng mga campaign materials, based doon sa calendar of activities ay dapat February 11 pa ang pangangampanya, “ Arzaga added. (with reports from Celeste Anna Formoso)