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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Line Should Be Clear

One of the top stories in last night's newscast was that the Iglesia ni Cristo, a religion that is often referred to as "hugely influential" in news reports, has chosen their 12 candidates whom they officially endorse for the Senate in the 2013 mid-term elections. It brought to the forefront something we all know, but refuse to admit, acknowledge, and declare in plain sight.

We don't really have a separation of church and state in this country.

(Courtesy of

My understanding of this relationship - or what should be their relationship - is based on our very own (1987) Constitution.

"The separation of church and state shall be inviolable." (Article 2, Section 6)

"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." (Article 3, Section 5)

You can understand, then, my bewilderment, ever since I began being engaged in our political life: the basis for all our laws, the Constitution, has made it patently clear how one should relate to each other.

There should be a separation of church and state, and if you would, kindly read the meaning of the word inviolable - "never to be broken, infringed or dishonored." There will never be a state religion, and the reason is given immediately: because every person should be free to believe in their own chosen deity or belief system. And that is why, in doing our duties expected of citizens of a democratic, secular government (like voting), "no religious test shall be required."

What has been happening, ever since I was old enough to vote, is clearly, and blatantly unconstitutional.

How else can you describe the actions of the INC, and most recently, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, when they tell their followers which candidates to vote for specifically? Is this not subjecting a civic and political act - voting - under a religious test, one which is approved by a religion's "elders?"

How else can you describe candidates - supposedly running for a position in a secular, democratic government - who willingly kneel in front of religious leaders, with the unwritten-but-still-waved-around assumption that such a "blessing" will translate to actual votes in a secular, democratic exercise?

The terms "bloc voting," "command vote," "INC endorsement" and "Catholic vote" are no longer foreign to us, we seem to have accepted them as a given, even when our Constitution states that this should not be happening in the first place.

I am not a lawyer, so I will not try to argue using court decisions or obscure entries in our law books that even law professors hardly remember. But one reason I can use, why this confluence of religion and politics is especially disturbing come election time, is the loss of our individual voice, and why I find it most disrespectful.

Voting is the one time we are all, truly, in its barest sense, equal. One person gets one vote. (No jokes about flying voters.) Rich, poor, disabled, triathlete, obese, model, straight and happy, gay and unhappy, none of those things matter. As long as you are a citizen, you get one vote. It also means you do not have to be Catholic, or INC, or Buddhist, or Muslim, or Protestant, or any of the thousands of other religions out there, in order to vote...what, did you think that there were only 4 or 5 religions?

That is the reason why it should not matter come voting time. There cannot be a tyranny of numbers, that just because most people in this country are Catholic, it should follow that every citizen has no choice but to be compelled to follow Catholic doctrine and teaching - and that is what has already happened, and one sterling example of this would be former Manila mayor Lito Atienza during his stint declaring that public health centers - of a secular, democratic government - will only offer natural family planning methods, as per his belief system, who cares that there are non-Catholics living in his city.

But most of all, the concept of "command voting," where religious leaders tell their followers what to write on election day, gives rise to the assumption that people are incapable of thinking for themselves, and need to be told what to do, who to vote for, where to go, who to marry. Why did we bother setting an age for being legally defined as an adult if we won't even bother making decisions for ourselves? Even parents cannot force their children - ideally, anyway - where to live once they are 18, or in this country's case, now with spouse.

Why are we allowing a few men to dictate the outcome of our elections? (And yes, most of the major religions aren't too excited about the prospects of having "women leaders," hence the usage of the term "men.")

If this country is to move forward, we have to vote for a candidate despite the misgivings of our religious leaders, but if you yourself feel it is the right choice, after considering all factors, then you should be free to choose who it is that your reason and emotion tell you to.

It's time we honored our own minds by standing by our own choices. And let this country's politics be free from religious interference, as mandated by the Constitution.

As it should be.


UPDATE: As soon as I posted this, a news item appeared in my feed, saying that the INC has NOT yet given its list of candidates to vote for, and you can read the news report here. (It may have been a false alarm, but the use of the word "yet" indicates they intend to come out with such a list, something they have done over the course of several elections.)

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