NOTE: This is a 2012 article, currently being updated for 2017. In line with the revival of this site, the article will be updated to reflect the current political situation in the Philippines. (And besides, the House Bill has already been withdrawn way back).
Sto. Niño, Photo by Paul Cayanes
And I thought we were getting somewhere.
When Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond V. Palatino filed House Bill 6330, officially known as “Religious Freedom In Government Offices Act”, it was actually sensible, logical, and appropriate for the times. And when I meant appropriate for the times, it’s that most Filipinos are actually becoming progressive Catholics, remaining faithful but shunning the impracticality of some tenets and practices of their church.
House Bill 6330 was filed by the honorable partylist representative to enforce in usage of government resources the constitutional foundation of separation of church and state. In simple terms: to not put any religious symbols on walls of government offices such as Sto. Niño, Picture of Jesus, Mama Mary, and the like, and not use government resources for religious purposes such as Mass on Multi-Purpose Hall or Frontyard of government offices. I have yet to get a complete copy of the HB 6330, but this would be the gist.
The logic is quite simple, really. We are not a theocracy, we are a secular nation with no bias to any religion whatsoever. Religious symbols and activities of government institutions is tantamount to putting the picture of Benigno Aquino III on the office of the Parish Archbishop and holding political rallies inside the church. We just happen to have a population with a Christian majority (with the Roman Catholic church as the largest denomination) and a Muslim minority.
However, being 80% Catholic out of 93 million doesn’t equate to having Catholic rites and symbols on government offices. Even Jesus himself said “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, according to Matthew 22:21.
Now why do I keep mentioning Roman Catholic when there are a few more Christian denominations in the Philippines? Well, for one, they are the ones who are making the most noise against the said House Bill. Again, we go back to the archaic Filipino culture of a domineering Catholic church, from the heydays of Spanish colonization, when it was used as a subtle tool for subjugation, obedience, and oppression.
Incredibly, “Religious Freedom In Government Offices Act” became “Anti-God Bill” or “Anti-Christ Bill” on news and social media (talk about responsible journalism) when nowhere in the House Bill does it insult God or Jesus.
I myself am a believer of God, but I will wholeheartedly support this endeavor, on the basis of fairness to other denominations. If we want equality without this House Bill, then we should display on government facilities the religious symbols of other groups.
Then, there’s the bad news.
In the face of seething anger of the Catholic Church and affiliated ultra-conservative groups, it seemed that Hon. Raymond V. Palatino has withdrawn the House Bill and issued a public apology.
It seems that the Partylist Representative didn’t realize that a lot of concerned citizens are supportive of the House Bill. A lot of Filipino Catholics are faithful, but are also against the arrogance of the bishops and priests in meddling with state affairs. Not yet that much, but their numbers are growing, as more and more are becoming educated to the realities of our world and are realizing the obsolescence of some church principles such as anti-contraception and anti-death penalty.
In my theory, Sir Palatino took into consideration the bulk of future votes: those who are still narrow-minded and choose to blindly follow whatever the priest says. He knew that the intellectual and progressive Catholics still do not outnumber the religious fanatics.
In other words, the honorable partylist representative may have gone by the way of the traditional politician, courting the church and appeasing the bishops. And to think, he represents the Kabataan Partylist, a supposedly left-leaning but pro-youth group. I don’t think the Filipino youth of today are keen on supporting the statements of the Damasos of the church.
Of course we know that Sir Palatino got a seat not on his own, but through the Kabataan Partylist. The Philippines partylist system requires at least 2% of all partylist votes cast, in order to obtain a seat in the lower house. It could be either the representative was pressured by his partylist, for the same reason of appeasement and assurance that Kabataan would not lose votes in the next election, or he is building up his individual foundation by being in good graces with the bishops and by basking in the spotlight, albeit in an allegedly bad perspective, should he consider running on his own in the future.
Anyway, it’s all theory and assumption. But whatever true reason it may be for the withdrawal of resolution, we can only connect the facts that the withdrawal and public apology was done right after a tumultuous protest by the Philippine Catholic hierarchy.
I sincerely hope some other politician would have the guts to push this House Bill, without fear of repercussion from the church and without fear of losing the Catholic vote in the succeeding election.
Please do take note that I’m not anti church. What I’m against is the way the church flexes its muscles to influence decisions of a temporal and wholly autonomous institution. We can live without holding masses at the office, we have churches for that. We can live without a picture of Jesus peering at us while we work, it would be better to post patriotic Filipino messages on the office wall.
Let us be a country untainted by religious biases, let us remove a cultural and societal obstacle which hinders our nation’s progress.