LAST Wednesday’s filing of an impeachment complaint against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by a Catholic bishop has again brought to fore the oft-invoked, if not abused, principle of the separation of Church and State.
Malacañang and its allies have taken issue with the action of Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, criticizing the Diocese of Caloocan church leader for engaging in “partisan politics” in violation of the Church-State separation principle. Arroyo even has gone to the extent of appealing to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to have Iñiguez investigated for possible violation of Church doctrines.
Section 6 of Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Policies) of the 1987 Constitution declares that the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. Inspired by the First Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution), the separation principle was further guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, Section 5 of which states 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.
Two aspects define the principle, says University of the Philippines law professor Marvic Leonen, a constitutional expert. First, the freedom to choose one’s religion and second, the non-establishment of a State-sponsored religion.
On the first aspect, Leonen says the State is prohibited to meddle in matters of opinion and faith, while the second has to do with the prohibition on the State to pass laws which aid one or all religions, or prefer one religion over another — like tax levied to support religious activities.
Saying that the principle of Church-State separation is “not some nebulous, theoretical thing,” Christian Monsod, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair and a member of the Constitutional Commission that crafted the 1987 Constitution, also points to specific provisions that give life to the principle — defining and clarifying the relationships between the Church and State — aside from the ones already mentioned by Leonen.
Article VI (Legislative Department)
Section 28. (3) Charitable institutions, churches and parsonages or convents appurtenant thereto, mosques, non-profit cemeteries, and all lands, buildings, and improvements, actually, directly, and exclusively used for religious, charitable, or educational purposes shall be exempt from taxation.
Section 29. (2) No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or sytem of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium.
Article IX (Constitutional Commissions)
C. Commission on Elections
Section 2. The Commission on Elections shall exercise the following powers and functions:
(5) Register, after sufficient publication, political parties, organizations, or coalitions which, in addition to other requirements, must present their platform or program of government; and accredit citizens’ arms of the Commission on Elections. Religious denominations and sects shall not be registered. Those which seek to achieve their goals through violence or unlawful means, or refuse to uphold and adhere to this Constitution, or which are supported by any foreign government shall likewise be refused registration.
Article XIV (Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture, and Sports)
Section 3. (3) At the option expressed in writing by the parents or guardians, religion shall be allowed to be taught to their children or wards in public elementary and high schools within the regular class hours by instructors designated or approved by the religious authorities of the religion to which the children or wards belong, without additional cost to the Government.
Putting the principle in the context of Bishop Iñiguez’s filing of an impeachment complaint against Arroyo, Monsod asserts there is nothing in the Constitution that deals with any prohibition on the exercise of citizenship with respect to one’s religion. “The Constitution clearly states that there is no religious test on the exercise of civil or political rights. (Bishop) Iñiguez is not less of a citizen just because he happens to be a priest,” he says.
Indeed, for the government to invoke the principle of Church-State separation, Leonen says such is tantamount to disenfranchising him as a Filipino citizen on the basis of his religion.
“Iñiguez’s religion should not matter. He didn’t file the complaint as a Catholic bishop. And even his being a bishop should not be the basis for denying him his right,” claims Leonen.
“It’s like saying let’s kill the Christians like in the time of the Romans when they persecuted Christians because they were Christians,” he says.
The CBCP likewise maintains Iñiguez has done nothing wrong or anything violative of Church doctrines for him to be sanctioned as suggested by Malacañang.
“He is just exercising his right as a citizen,” says Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, CBCP spokesperson, adding that the bishop’s decision was in consonance with the CBCP pastoral statement issued in January that prescribed ways to end Arroyo’s crisis of legitimacy. Titled “Renewing our Public Life through Moral Values,” the document called for a “relentless” pursuit of the truth about allegations that Arroyo manipulated the 2004 elections.
Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo, CBCP president, likewise points to the fact that Iñiguez quoted from the “Deus Caritas Est” encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI in explaining why he joined in his personal capacity the multisectoral Kilusan ng Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME) — a group advocating for a shift to a nationalist economic policy — in filing the impeachment complaint.
As the Pope wrote in the encyclical, Iñiguez said that “(t)he just ordering of society and the state is a central responsibility of politics. As St. Augustine once said, a state which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves.”
Lagdameo says the CBCP respects Bishop Iñiguez’s personal option because this also conforms with CBCP statements on politics and moral values.
Yet the same encyclical, a copy of which Arroyo received from the Pope during her recent state visit, is being bandied about by Malacañang as proof that Vatican does not look kindly upon priests who are engaged in politics.
But an encyclical is not a law, points out Leonen. For the government to use it as an argument against the Church’s political engagement, he says, is actually interfering in the free exercise of a religion.
“While politically, the government can always say that, such pronouncements however can assume the form of a State-sanctioned policy. It borders on intrusion into affairs of the religion. It’s a threat to the exercise of that freedom,” Leonen says.
Besides, Malacañang’s claims also appear to be based on a misreading, if not a selective interpretation, of the encyclical.
To quote from the Deus Caritas Est (No. 28):
In order to define more accurately the relationship between the necessary commitment to justice and the ministry of charity, two fundamental situations need to be considered:
a) The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?“. Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere. The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.
Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.
The Church’s social teaching argues on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. It recognizes that it is not the Church’s responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church’s immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically.
The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which will always demand sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet promotion of justice through the efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.
Too often, notes Lagdameo, that the separation of the Church and the State is invoked. “This should not be used as an argument against the participation and involvement of the Church in shaping the politics of our country. Concretely this means that the Bishops, Clergy and Laity must be involved in the area of politics when moral and Gospel values are at stake.”
The CBCP leader says that part of the Church’s mission is to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, “whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.”
Though he concedes that the Catholic Church does exert considerable influence in the political life of the nation as evidenced by enacted laws with obviously strong Catholic overtones, Leonen believes the government is also not being consistent.
“Malacañang didn’t invoke the separation of Church and State when the bishops issued a statement in July last year that did not call for her resignation. They didn’t invoke the principle when the CBCP called for the abolition of the death penalty,” he says, anticipating the same silence on the part of the government on current proposed bills tackling issues that the CBCP strongly opposes, like abortion and divorce.