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Labor Legal Center to Defend Anti-RH Bishops in Court
April 16, 2011

The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) Legal Center will defend Catholic bishops in court for free should they be charged for their anti-Reproductive Health Bill (RH) stance.

"FFW Legal Center volunteers free legal assistance for the defense of any citizen, lay-person, priest or bishop, who will be charged with a crime of rebellion or sedition due to his or her anti-Reproductive Health Bill stance," said Atty. Jose Sonny G. Matula National Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel of the Federation of Free Workers.

Matula formally made the commitment in a letter to Bishop Nereo P. Odchimar, D.D., Bishop of Tandag and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

It comes at the heels of recent pronouncements by the Pnoy administration concerning the filing of said charges against Catholic bishops who vowed to lead a civil disobedience campaign should the RH Bill become a law.

The FFW strongly believes that the campaign on the legislation of an RH bill as well as the threat of a tax boycott should the bill be passed into law is a matter of public interest and such undertaking is protected by the free speech and freedom of expression clause enshrined in Section 4, Article III of the Constitution.

"We view the ill-advised statement from the highest office of the Republic as a threat to the exercise of the free speech and freedom of expression guaranteed by the fundamental law. Freedom of speech includes freedom from punishment after the speech. We must be ready to defend and protect our rights," Matula said.

Matula lamented the persecution or the threat of such, saying it has muddled the debate on legitimate issues concerning the RH bill.

"Freedom of expression will be negated if the citizens will be denied the opportunity to free speech and the opportunity to participate in shaping public opinion through arbitrary threat of ban of silence by an ill-advised warning of punishment of a crime from the highest office of the land," Matula said.

The FFW Chief Legal Counsel also noted that releasing statements or opinions of political or moral nature in support of such campaign is not a crime. Involvement of citizens including priests and bishops in such campaign is just a manifestation of the assertion of their freedom of expression as "sovereignty resides in the people all government authority emanates from them" as written in Section 1, Article II of the Constitution.

"It must be highlighted that this freedom of expression is the first right that is always curtailed when a free society falls under a dictatorship or a repressive administration," Matula said.

The FFW Legal Center is the Federation's legal arm for the defense and protection of trade union and human rights. The FFW has been in existence since 1950. It was established by world-renowned trade union leader Johnny Tan and his Jesuit mentor, Fr. Walter Hogan.

Matula is currently teaching Constitutional law and labor law at the University of Perpetual Help College of Law, Manuel Luis Quezon University School of Law and the University of Manila College of Law.

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