End note to a dumped billBy Jason Baguia
Cebu Daily News
The Preamble of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, I understood during my formative years through my political science teachers, is not part of the Charter per se, yet it is the only text in which we Filipinos enunciate our vision of a nation where the rule of law holds sway and truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace reign.
The beauty of the Preamble lies in its characterization of Filipinos as a theistic rather than a godless people. This very cultural trait, I once read, ensured our invocation in the Charter’s preface of “Almighty God” instead of the less personal “Divine Providence,” as our forefathers did in our previous charters.
Our acknowledgment of dependence on God’s magnanimous providence for the realization of our highest ideals —a collective philosophical achievement—ought to remain our guiding light nowadays when we are witnessing, courtesy of the tyranny of radical secularism or relativism, an eclipse in civilizations like the Western one.
That eclipse would have crept into our land through House Bill No. 6330 that sought to enforce “Religious Freedom in Government Offices.” Thank God, Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino withdrew the bill after seeing the indignation with which Filipinos met it.
Before withdrawing the bill, Congressman Palatino said he crafted it in response to a need to ensure equality in the government for people of differing religious persuasions, yet the bill was actually designed to extirpate religion from the public square, as its fourth section showed:
“Religious ceremonies shall not be undertaken within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments, and bureaus, including publicly owned spaces and corridors within such spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.
“Religious symbols shall not be displayed within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly owned corridors within such offices, departments, and bureaus.”
Imagine what this provision would have entailed for the Cebu city government, whose seal features an image of the Magellan’s Cross Shrine. What would this have meant for the government of the Islamic City of Marawi, whose emblem features a mosque overlaying the Philippine colors?
Notably, among the first persons to register their opposition to the bill were the members of the Office of Muslim Affairs.
Did Congressman Palatino foresee the implications of these provisions on brief but important public ceremonies like the oath-taking of a theist witness in a court of law, the swearing in of theist public officials and the inter-faith invocation that precedes affairs like the President’s annual State of the Nation Address?
The provisions would have also stifled popular expressions of faith in government-run schools, which are publicly owned spaces.
Members of the academic community need to guard their right to religion lest this bill resurfaces (as radical secular measures often do in our time; just look at the repeatedly killed and refiled Reproductive Health bill), and becomes law, which would mean that in places like the University of the Philippines in Cebu, they will be forbidden to hold a yearly ecumenical baccalaureate service or let their glee club, the Serenata, open school events with hymns.
I would be aggrieved not only as a person of faith but as an art aficionado by radical secularist measures in the mold of H.B. 6330. These would legitimize the destruction of installation art like my friend Thea Graham’s “Ichthus,” the centerpiece of a lovely garden in UP Cebu. While not Christian at first glance, “Ichthus” borrows images from the Bible and the history of Christianity—the Samaritan woman’s well, tongues of fire that symbolize the Holy Spirit and fish—vintage symbol for Jesus Christ.
Any law that confines religious expression to houses of worship will diminish Philippine society, which was and continues to strain towards progress through faith in God, which moves mountains.
We must resist legislation that robs the public square of theist text, not only because this rebels against the religious freedom enshrined in our fundamental law, but also because this would in no time shove the nation down the precipice of an essentially meaning-orphaned syncretism that ends in decadence.