Separation of church and state: Where to draw the line

Posted by Admin | Posted in Philippine Constitution | Posted on 19-06-2010

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It is said that when the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus whether or not they should pay taxes to the emperor, Jesus answered: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  This could very well illustrate the ancient origin of the concept of separation of the church and the state, though the phrase separation of church and state is more popularly attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  In his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, he referred to the First Amendment[1] to the US Constitution as a “wall of separation” between church and state.[2]

So what does this separation mean?  This simply means that each one should not interfere with the other’s affairs.  Each one has its own sphere of influence and should not in any way exercise dominance over the other.  However, this does not mean total isolation or non-cooperation. Instead, they should be like friendly neighbors who do not meddle with the personal matters of the other but offers a helping hand in times of trouble.

The Philippines is a Catholic-dominated nation, but the concept of separation of church and state has been well-enshrined in our Constitution. Our Constitution echoes the First Amendment to the US Constitution. In Article III, Section 5 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, it is stated that:

“No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

Section 5 capsulizes the twin aspects of religious freedom.  The first part is the non-establishment clause: “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion” while the second part is the free exercise clause.  These two reinforces each other and reflect the main intent to separate the church and the state.  By allowing the free exercise of religion, the State cannot be said to be supporting the establishment of any particular religion.  And by not espousing a state religion, the state guarantees the people of the freedom to believe in anything or nothing at all and to act according to that belief or non-belief.

If we assess the Philippine setting, can we say that the two institutions are really separated as the Constitution directed?  I think not.  With the likes of Father Panlilio entering politics and Health Secretary Cabral distributing condoms to call center agents, clashes of interests are very likely.

The religious entering the political sphere

The present Philippine Constitution does not prohibit priests or any individual who is a member or leader of any religious group from running for any public office.  The Omnibus Election Code and other special laws on election do not consider religious vocation or affiliation as a ground for disqualification. The common requirements relate to citizenship, residence, and moral character, but not religious profession or belief.

The Constitution, however, prohibits the registration with the COMELEC of religious denominations and sects [Article IX-C, Section 2(5)].  It also prohibits the religious sector from participating in the party-list system of election to the House of Representatives [Article VI, Section 5(2)].  But as we have witnessed in the party list elections of the past years, some parties actually represented religious groups.  In the most recent national elections, the party list of El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde (Buhay Hayaang Yumabong or BUHAY) was able to participate, although its accreditation by the Comelec was questionable. Read the rest of this entry »

“Give chance to others” (Political Dynasties in the Philippines)

Posted by Admin | Posted in Elections, Philippine Constitution, Thoughts | Posted on 19-06-2010

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By the end of this month, another Aquino will officially become President of our republic. And in many parts of the country, local officials who happen to be members of political families or dynasties will assume their posts. We are not surprised because this culture has been around since the Spanish colonial era where the mestizos or the ilustrados dominate the political scene. These clans have been controlling local governments for so long that elections have become meaningless. The results are almost always predictable.

A study of the elites in Philippine politics by Dante Simbulan showed that from 1946 to 1963, there were 169 families that dominated our political arena.[1] These families have produced 584 public officials, including seven Presidents, two Vice Presidents, 42 Senators, and 147 Representatives.[2] With the span of more than forty years, the figures have surely skyrocketed by now.

We have seen and heard of these names and faces.  We have complained so much about how a select few have controlled and corrupted our country.  We cry afoul when they steal government funds or when they oppress us in any way.  But we have only done so little or nothing at all to reduce, if not eliminate, this perennial problem. It has long become obvious to us that the political elite generally desire to promote only their own benefit. But we still willingly send them to the city hall or capitol building while we watch them grow richer and us poorer.

Our Constitution (Section 26, Article II) [3] wanted to prohibit political dynasties. I said it “wanted to” because it did not expressly and simply state that political dynasties are prohibited. It gave our lawmakers the prerogative to define what a political dynasty is and the scope and limitations of the law that will prohibit it. And since Section 26, Article II of our present Constitution is not a self-executing provision[4] we can only wait in vain before our senators or congressmen/women could finally have the graciousness and altruism to finally end their overdue occupancy of government offices.

Now since an Anti-Political Dynasty Law seems too remote in the minds of our dear politicians, the best way we can end this elite dominance is to select “brand new” leaders.  It should be new not only in terms of family affiliation but also in terms of leadership and governance. We failed to do this in the recent national elections. But we still have another chance in the coming barangay elections. After all, it is our barangay officials who are nearer to us. They are the ones whom we can directly talk to and who can feel and understand our needs and aspirations for our community.


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[3] Section 26, Article II, 1987 Constitution: The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law. (emphasis mine)

[4] A self-executing provision is one that does not require any law for it to be enforceable. It can be invoked directly by the proper party (or person affected) in any court or proper forum or tribunal.