“The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”
– Article 2, section 6 of the Philippine Constitution
“There must be no separation between God and Man. Without these conditions, the (RH) Bill if enacted into law will separate our nation from Almighty God.”
– CBCP President Angel Lagdameo
Almost two years ago, Speaker Prospero Nograles proposed a study that could prevent the CBCP from making cowards of our Congressmen.
The study could reveal that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has no right to scare politicians with threats to campaign against them, and that the religious organization will lose tax-exempt status if it continues to do so.
As the elections draw near, the results of the study become more relevant. Sadly, it’s because of the timing that the study remains a proposal. As an online reporter for CBCP said, “Politicians tend to be wary of going against Church teachings for fear of losing votes.”
So as long as our politicians are afraid of some priests, the study will not happen. The CBCP will continue to meddle in politics, and our politicians will continue to let them. For instance, three groups will decide the fate of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill: Pro-RH politicians, anti-RH politicians, and anti-RH priests.
By now it should be clear that the CBCP is a critical part of this political debate. They have campaigned against pro-RH politicians, asked them to resign, and even tried to do their job for them, pushing for their own version of the bill. They are doing everything in their power to order politicians to their side and threaten those who don’t obey.
And it’s working. Our politicians are scared. Even our Secretary of Defense is “very afraid.” Before the RH debates resume, pro-RH politicians will try to get the blessings of some bishops. I believe the Church’s favor is a major factor most politicians consider before even hinting that they support the RH bill.
On the other hand, the CBCP is not afraid of our politicians. They wield the Catholic bloc vote (which is a myth, by the way) that got them enough political clout to be invited to a Senate hearing. And when they weren’t pleased with what they heard, they walked out, in disrespect to the privilege they’d been given.
Such political meddling is what motivated Speaker Nograles to propose the removal of their tax exempt status. But the CBCP simply shrugged off the threat. A CBCP spokesman further said that removing their tax-exempt status would require a change in the Constitution. I presume it is out of fear that Nograles later clarified that he was not proposing to remove it, only to study what the Constitution really says about the issue.
So what’s actually written in the Constitution? First, let’s look at how the CBCP understands it.
Should religious leaders choose candidates for their flock? According to Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, “that should be left to the wisdom and conscience of the mature Christian voter.” That answer might have contributed to his losing the CBCP presidency. Because where the CBCP is concerned, it’s the wrong answer.
In 1998, the CBCP released Catechism on the Church and Politics. Here are some excerpts:
What does “separation of Church and State” mean?
Separation of Church and State is strictly defined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution to refer to two points: (1) that no religion may be established as the official religion of the State; and (2) that the State may not favor one religion over others. At the same time, the State shall forever allow the free exercise and enjoyment of religion and shall not require any religious test for the exercise of civil or political rights…
To be noted is the fact that nowhere does the Constitution prohibit Clergy and Religious from partisan politics. What prohibits them from active involvement in partisan politics is the Church’s own laws and traditional wisdom.
Is there any case when the Bishops can authoritatively order the lay faithful to vote for one particular and concrete option?
Yes, there is, and the case would certainly be extraordinary. This happens when a political option is clearly the only one demanded by the Gospel… In this case the Church may authoritatively demand the faithful, even under pain of sin, to vote against this particular candidate…
– Catechism on the Church and Politics Part 2
This tells us two things about how the CBCP understands secularism. First, that they can be involved in partisan politics. Second, that they should be involved and order their flock to vote for or against candidates in cases where it is “demanded by the Gospel.”
One such case is the RH Bill, as emphasized by CBCP President Angel Lagdameo:
Even as we recognize the right of the government to enact laws, we also reiterate that there must be no separation between God and Man. Without these conditions, the (Reproductive Health) Bill if enacted into law will separate our nation from Almighty God.
Now it becomes clear why the CBCP has been so active in politics, especially in opposing the RH Bill. They believe it is their divine obligation and constitutional right.
But in their understanding of the separation of church and state, they don’t see the full picture. What does our Constitution actually say?
“The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”
– Article 2, section 6 of the Philippine Constitution
“No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”
– Article 3, section 5 of the Philippine Constitution
“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 system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, other religious teacher, or dignitary as such…”
– Article 6, section 29 of the Philippine Constitution
I think they read only this much, but even here they only see half the picture. Secularism means more than the state not interfering with church. It works both ways. The church must not interfere with the state. Religious organizations must not be involved in partisan politics. They totally missed this point even when our Constitution makes it absolutely clear:
“One-half of the seats allocated to the party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from … sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”
– Art. 6, section 5(2) of the Philippine Constitution
“Religious denominations and sects shall not be registered (as a political party, organization or coalition, by the Comelec)”
– Art. 9, C, section 2(5) of the Philippine Constitution
The last item makes it clear that religious organizations cannot register as political organizations. This is because religious organizations, unlike political ones, receive tax privileges:
“Charitable institutions, churches and personages 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.”
– Art. 6, section 28(3) of the Philippine Constitution
This is repeated in the Corporation Code…
Non-stock corporations may be formed or organized for charitable, religious, educational, professional, cultural, fraternal, literary, scientific, social, civic service, or similar purposes, like trade, industry, agricultural and like chambers, or any combination thereof…
– Batas Pambansa Blg. 68 Title 11 Section 88
Any corporation sole may purchase and hold real estate and personal property for its church, charitable, benevolent or educational purposes, and may receive bequests or gifts for such purposes.
– Batas Pambansa Blg. 68 Title 11 Section 113
…and in the National Internal Revenue Code:
The following organizations shall not be taxed under this Title in respect to income received by them as such:
(E) Nonstock corporation or association organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, athletic, or cultural purposes, or for the rehabilitation of veterans, no part of its net income or asset shall belong to or inures to the benefit of any member, organizer, officer or any specific person;
– Republic Act 8424 Chapter 4, Section 30 E
Note that these 3 documents emphasize that religious organizations, who receive tax-exempt status, should be “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, athletic, or cultural purposes, or for the rehabilitation of veterans.”
Partisan politics is not an authorized purpose. So once a religious group starts politicking, it no longer qualifies for tax exemption, and should be stripped of its tax privileges.
The CBCP’s involvement in politics should put their tax exempt status into question. Which is what Speaker Nograles did in February 2008:
Speaker Nograles said that in the US, tax exempt privileges being accorded to religious organizations, charitable institutions and non-profit organizations has some preconditions under its Internal Revenue Code (Section 501) and among which is the prohibition for any organization or institution which availed of tax privileges from “conducting lobbying activities and in participating and intervening, directly or indirectly, in political campaigns.”
Let me remind you that our Constitution, Corporation Code, and Tax Code do have the same preconditions. But in our case, what’s mentioned is what a religious organization can do. It only says what cannot be done implicitly (by its not being mentioned).
But the US, whose constitution and secularism are the basis of our own, explicitly states what a religious organization cannot do:
All IRC section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office…
Religious leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions.
Religious leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization.
– IRS Tax Guide For Churches And Religious Organizations
They also elaborate on how churches can avoid politicking when it invites candidates to speak, holds public forums, and releases voter guides. But in every case, they make it very clear that the mere indication that a church supports or opposes a certain candidate is grounds for removal of tax privileges.
Now let’s review:
Does the CBCP support or oppose certain candidates? Do their religious leaders “clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization”?
“If you know of a congressman or senator who voted in favor of the Reproductive Health Bill, my request is not to vote for them in the next elections.” .
– Bishop Arturo Bastes over Radio Veritas
(Cardinal Vidal) is now considering whether Aquino should be included in the Church’s list of politicians who should not be voted.
– Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Commission on Family and Life
As you can see, CBCP’s politicking has gone beyond mere indication into blatant intervention. These are only three of the many similar cases you can find on their website alone.
What about the thousands of violations that go unchecked when priests give sermons about who Catholics should vote? The pulpits and church buildings, like the website and Radyo Veritas, are tax-exempt properties that should not be used for political, taxable purposes.
The CBCP has to decide what to use their resources for. Either they use it exclusively for religious purposes, or occasionally for political intervention. They can’t have it both ways.
In any case, our lawmakers must require CBCP to stop politicking or lose their tax-exempt status. What’s taking them so long to do this? Maybe they’re not sure whether there are violations in the first place. Or perhaps they just don’t understand what separation of church and state really means. If they did, speaker Nograles wouldn’t think that the issue needed to be studied.
In that case, why don’t they do the study already? I imagine it won’t take much effort. I got all this from a few hours of research online. With their experts, research teams, and related cases in other secular countries around the world (even the cases in the US are more than enough), they have all the resources they need.
More importantly, it’s their responsibility. If there’s the slightest chance that our Constitution is being violated, then our politicians should not put off the study any longer.
Unless, of course, our Congressmen are paralyzed by fear. I’m afraid no Church-fearing candidate would want to follow through and risk losing the Catholic vote. But our Congressmen must not forget. As public servants, it’s not the Church, not the bishops, not even the Catholics they should be afraid of. It’s the Filipino citizens — regardless of religion — that our representatives should respect.