Bill vs religious rites in gov't offices withdrawn-A A +A
Friday, June 22, 2012
MANILA -- Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino has withdrawn his proposed measure banning religious ceremonies in government offices following the negative reactions it received from the public.
In a statement, the progressive party-list lawmaker clarified that House Bill (HB) 6330 has no intention to "ban God."
"The purpose of the bill is to ensure that government offices do not favor one religion over the other, or discriminates one against the other," Palatino stressed.
"Kabataan party-list sincerely apologizes for any offense the bill caused. We are sad that we hurt the religious sentiments of many, when our desire was to uphold and promote religious sensitivity and harmony," he added.
Based on the proposed law, the display of religious symbols and religious exercises contradicts a provision of the Philippine Constitution, particularly on the Bill of Rights.
But Paranaque Representative Roilo Golez earlier said he will strongly oppose Palatino's proposal "with all my heart."
"It is a Godless initiative," he said.
Buhay party-list Representative Irwin Tieng also thought the proposed measure “would violate the right to religious freedom.”
“Government employees are not forced to join religious ceremonies,” he earlier said.
Several officials in Davao City and Cebu City, as well as in other areas in the country, also opposed the bill.
Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama said it’s an old practice in the Cebu City Hall to have a religious ceremony or a mass in every activity and it shouldn’t be taken away.
“Mura man na ug pangaway nang iyang gihimo sa relihiyon, ngano gud tawon nang hilabtan nga dugay na man na? (It seems he’s trying to fight religion. Why would he want to mess with tradition?)” Rama said earlier.
Rama found the bill divisive.
Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza agreed, saying the presence of religious symbols and the conduct of religious activities in City Hall do not affect the performance of workers.
In Davao City, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio urged Palatino to instead focus his attention to more important issues like poverty alleviation rather than tinker with traditions that is not causing any harm.
She said the City Government of Davao is not spending even a single centavo for purchasing Sto. Niño's image since that was a donation from various individuals.
"Naa rana sila dira as reminders sa mga Katoliko of their faith (The images are just there to remind the Catholics of their faith)," Duterte-Carpio added.
HB 6330, otherwise known as the "Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act," specifically seeks to prohibit mass, prayers, Christmas parties, thanksgivings, vigils and blessings, among others, and remove religious symbols like the cross, Holy Bible, Koran and others.
The proposed legislation also aims "to empower heads of offices and departments to follow strictly the constitutional provision on the freedom of religion, particularly the non-establishment clause, in the exercise of their official functions, and in the use of government facilities and property in the exercise thereof."
Some members of the Davao City Council, however, said displaying any religious icons, or even holding religious rites and ceremonies are not against any provisions of the Constitution.
"There is really a separation between the church and state, but you cannot separate God from the state," Councilor Melchor Quitain said.
Councilor Pilar Braga, for his part, said if the display of any religious image is prejudicial to the people, then she herself will be the one to propose a law to ban it.
She said, however, that whatever angle or perspective she looks at it, she sees no rationale for such a ban.
Members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also opposed the bill, saying 80 percent of the country's population belongs to the Catholic Church.
The Dilaab Foundation, a church-based group, described the bill as “short-sighted, discriminatory and un-Filipino.”
Fr. Carmelo Diola of Dilaab said HB 6330 “seeks to relegate religion and the church into the purely private sphere, making them irrelevant in public life.”
Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal urged congressmen to consult the people before making laws, especially those concerning religion.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz criticized Palatino for filing the bill while many Filipinos live in poverty.
Vidal said Cebuanos, in particular, are sensitive to matters concerning the Sto. Niño.
“Everybody should know that the devotion to Sto. Niño has entered the culture of Cebuanos. If you touch that, you will be touching the culture of Cebuanos,” Vidal said.
Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco said that since majority of Filipinos are Catholics, “they should be respected in expressing their belief.”
Diola said religion is a positive influence in society and very much part of the Filipino culture.
“It is part of who we are. Religion provides ultimate values from which the state derives ethical and spiritual boundaries. Without it, the state becomes a free for all,” Diola said.
“We call on all Christians and Muslims to resist this move,” he added.
But Palatino said despite the withdrawal of his bill, he is hoping that debates on the much needed respect for different beliefs will continue.
"We are encouraged by the fact that despite the misunderstandings, the bill initiated relevant discussions on freedom of religion as one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution," he said.
Palatino said his party-list group representing the youth would rather continue prioritizing its other pending measures before the House of Representatives, including the Tuition Regulation Bill, review of the K+12 program, Students' Rights Act, Anti-No Permit, No Exam Act, BPO Workers' Welfare Act and Public Wi-Fi Bill. (Kathrina Alvarez/With Sun.Star Cebu/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)