Clarifying role of Catholic Church-A A +A
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
TRUST party-list groups to stir the hornets’ nest of public opinion, sort of. Rep. Raymond Palatino of the youth group Kabataan Partylist filed House Bill 6330 or the Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, a measure that immediately stoked the fire of religious fervor in the country.
The bill prohibits religious ceremonies and display of religious symbols within the premises or perimeter of government offices, public places and corridors.
I don’t know Palatino and, initially, only had a vague notion of what Kabataan Partylist is all about beyond the press releases it churns on various issues. A check with its website, kabataanpartylist.com showed that among the group’s founding organizations were the “National Union of Students, College Editors Guild, the League of Filipino Students, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Anakbayan and Kabataang Artista para sa Tunay na Kalayaan.”
Now those are organizations with proud activist tradition and known for vigorously advancing youth-student interests. Thankfully, this tradition is embodied in Kabataan Partylist’s mission, vision and program of action. How the party-list group translated theory into legislation is another thing, however.
I still have to hear of Kabataan-pushed pro-youth bills that caught national attention because these sought to effect radical change and aimed to solve the core problems confronting the youth and student sector. Instead, Kabataan and Palatino are biting more than they can chew with HB 6330. This is a waste of the opportunity given to them to be in Congress.
Palatino’s controversial measure actually looks innocent at first glance. Not all government employees are Catholics, so government offices should be freed of symbols and rituals associated with the said religion for strict neutrality. But a deeper look would show that the measure goes into the very core of a semi-feudal setup.
HB 6330 is, I would say, a continuation of efforts to introduce western values and beliefs into the country. The separation of Church and State is a concept imposed by American colonizers in the 1900s to dilute the Spanish-era power of the Catholic Church and the friars over Philippine affairs.
The separation, though, has not been fully practiced.
Blame that on the fact that majority of Filipinos are Catholics, which means majority of our government officials are also Catholics. That creates difficulty in separating Catholic practices from governance. Or in a larger scheme, Catholics being the majority creates difficulty in separating Catholic practices from other societal activities.
Globalization and economic growth, however, are making clarification of the Catholic Church’s role in Philippine society easier. In the same vein, the controversy sparked by HB 6330 and the debate it is generating will help people further understand the principles propping up the policy on the separation of Church and State. This has in turn made the clergy uneasy as its influence is being challenged.
Then again, it would be good if Palatino and Kabataan Party-list would let other lawmakers handle the measure. Instead, they should focus on youth and student concerns, the reason for their being in Congress in the first place.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 20, 2012.