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How Religious Party-Lists Circumvent the Separation of Church and State

An anti-Reproductive Health bill group composed of members of the Catholic laity is seeking accreditation from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to run under the party-list name Ang Prolife. While the separation of Church and State prohibits the registration of religious denominations and sects as political parties, the prohibition does not extend to organizations with religious affiliations or to political parties which derive their principles from religious beliefs.

In a Supreme Court decision on the petition for disqualification filed against Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong, a party-list group backed by the Catholic charismatic movement El Shaddai, the court remanded the case to the Comelec with the directive to immediately conduct summary evidentiary hearings under the following guidelines for screening party-list participants:

[I]n view of the objections directed against the registration of Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong, which is allegedly a religious group, the Court notes the express constitutional provision that the religious sector may not be represented in the party-list system.  The extent of the constitutional proscription is demonstrated by the following discussion during the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission:

“MR. OPLE.  x x x

In the event that a certain religious sect with nationwide and even international networks of members and supporters, in order to circumvent this prohibition, decides to form its own political party in emulation of those parties I had mentioned earlier as deriving their inspiration and philosophies from well-established religious faiths, will that also not fall within this prohibition?

MR. MONSOD.  If the evidence shows that the intention is to go around the prohibition, then certainly the Comelec can pierce through the legal fiction.”

The following discussion is also pertinent:

“MR. VILLACORTA.  When the Commissioner proposed “EXCEPT RELIGIOUS GROUPS,” he is not, of course, prohibiting priests, imams or pastors who may be elected by, say, the indigenous community sector to represent their group.

REV. RIGOS.  Not at all, but I am objecting to anybody who represents the Iglesia ni Kristo, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church et cetera.”

Furthermore, the Constitution provides that “religious denominations and sects shall not be registered.” The prohibition was explained by a member of the Constitutional Commission in this wise: “[T]he prohibition is on any religious organization registering as a political party.  I do not see any prohibition here against a priest running as a candidate.  That is not prohibited here; it is the registration of a religious sect as a political party.”

And the rest is history. With a Comelec that denied accreditation to the LGBT group Ang Ladlad based on “moral grounds” by quoting passages from the Bible and the Koran, it is no surprise that it did not choose to “pierce through the legal fiction” and instead dismissed the petition to disqualify Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong. And it should also not come as a surprise if Ang Prolife can “go around the prohibition” and its application for party-list accreditation easily passes approval.

But all hope is not lost to the vanguards of secularism. While many are aware that the Supreme Court granted Ang Ladlad’s petition for Certiorari and directed the Comelec to grant its application for party-list accreditation, perhaps only few have read the jurisprudence where the decision contains many gems that can be cited as precedence in future cases involving not only the LGBT movement but the separation of Church and State itself:

  • At bottom, what our non-establishment clause calls for is “government neutrality in religious matters.” Clearly, “governmental reliance on religious justification is inconsistent with this policy of neutrality.”
  • Government must act for secular purposes and in ways that have primarily secular effects.
  • The morality referred to in the law is public and necessarily secular.
  • Religious teachings as expressed in public debate may influence the civil public order but public moral disputes may be resolved only on grounds articulable in secular terms.
  • If government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a “compelled religion,” anathema to religious freedom.
  • If government based its actions upon religious beliefs, it would tacitly approve or endorse that belief and thereby also tacitly disapprove contrary religious or non-religious views that would not support the policy. As a result, government will not provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, or even make it appear that those whose beliefs are disapproved are second-class citizens.
  • In other words, government action, including its proscription of immorality as expressed in criminal law like concubinage, must have a secular purpose. That is, the government proscribes this conduct because it is “detrimental (or dangerous) to those conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society” and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other.
  • Succinctly put, a law could be religious or Kantian or Aquinian or utilitarian in its deepest roots, but it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses.
  • We cannot countenance advocates who, undoubtedly with the loftiest of intentions, situate morality on one end of an argument or another, without bothering to go through the rigors of legal reasoning and explanation. In this, the notion of morality is robbed of all value. Clearly then, the bare invocation of morality will not remove an issue from our scrutiny.

If we cannot stop religions from circumventing the separation of Church and State by filling congress with their party-list groups especially when there is little resistance from a Church-friendly Comelec, we can at least stay vigilant and expose potential and actual violations of the constitution when such groups try to impose their own brand of religious morality without having the decency of articulating their arguments in secular terms. That way we can prevent the Church from wielding political power and violating our much-cherished religious freedom.


Posted in Politics, ReligionComments (4)

Statement Regarding New Peso Bills

There has been recent controversy regarding the new peso bills the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines or BSP) will be releasing. Various factual errors have been brought up such as the rare blue-naped parrot on the new P500 bill having a yellow beak and green tail feathers, instead of red and yellow, respectively. On a map found on the P1000 bill, the Tubbataha reef was misplaced.1

Regarding these errors, Fe dela Cruz, a spokesperson for the BSP has said that, “In choosing the design… we are always guided by our commitment to enrich the appreciation and knowledge of the Filipinos we honor on our banknotes…”1

On Radyo Inquirer, dela Cruz also said that the BSP will be evaluating the criticisms regarding the errors on the new bills saying, “pwede namang palitan (it can be changed).”2

While it is laudable that these mistakes are going to be attended to, there is one gross oversight that has yet to be addressed. New bills will be containing this direct quotation from the Christian Bible: “Pinagpala ang bayan na ang Diyos ay ang Panginoon (Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord),”3,4 which comes from Psalm 33:12. This statement can be found above the seal of the Republic of the Philippines.

Original image from GMA news blog, used under fair use. Emphasis by the editors.

This is a flagrant transgression of the non-establishment clause of the Philippine Constitution, which states that, “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Clearly, this is a situation where the government is endorsing a particular religious tradition. While there is an undeniable Catholic majority in the Philippines, our nation also has citizens who are Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan, and non-religious. The emblazoning of this Biblical verse on Philippine currency is an affront to the religious diversity of our country and the separation of Church and State guaranteed by our Constitution.

In its decision against the COMELEC’s order to bar Ang Ladlad from running as a party-list during this past year’s national elections, the Supreme Court said that, “it was grave violation of the non-establishment clause for the COMELEC to utilize the Bible and the Koran to justify the exclusion of Ang Ladlad.5 We see in this overtly Christian statement on the new Philippine peso bills another example in a long-running trend of religious bias on the part of certain sectors in our government.

The quotation from the Christian Old Testament and its placing on legal tender is a manifest violation of the Constitution and the right to religious freedom of the country’s citizens as it forces even non-Christians to participate in the distribution of explicitly Judeo-Christian material. As a body that represents all of its citizens, Christian or not, the Philippine government must be a secular one; it cannot champion the religious beliefs of any particular faith.

We hereby call upon the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to remove the quotation from the Bible from all legal Philippine tender.

1 Agence France-Presse. Philippines in uproar over error-filled peso bills, <
> (2010).
2 Zamora, F. Twitter / @ fe zamora: BSP to evaluate criticisms …, <
> (2010).
3 Bauzon, B. C. V. New peso bills feature younger-looking faces, <
> (2010).
4 Lardizabal-Dado, N. New Generation Philippine Peso bills (updated), <
l> (2010).
5 Castillo, M. C. D. Ang Ladlad LGBT Party vs. Commission on Elections, <
> (2010).

Posted in Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (117)


getoverit (Medium)Let’s show our support for the LGBT, human rights, and secularism movements by participating in Ang Ladlad’s ImmoRALLY tomorrow. Below are the details and the other ways you can help. See you tomorrow!
[from Ang Ladlad]

Dear Human Rights Defenders and Protectors a.k.a Friends,

The Motion for Reconsideration (MR) was filed today, Nov18 at the Comelec.
We will wait for the Comelec’s decision to reconsider LADLAD’s accreditation to run for party list in the 2010 election.

Comelec has the option to sit on this and let time pass until LADLAD, due to technicality, will not be able to register to run in the 2010 election because the Comelec has only a few days to finalize the list of party-list groups that would be included in the ballot.




As Amnesty International would say,


Because of Manny Pacquiao’s motorcade on Friday, Nov.20 around Manila, Ang LADLAD decided to move the rally to next week.

TENTATIVE DATE: Wednesday, Nov. 25

Your group can send your message of solidarity & support to LADLAD at their FB page or email at [email protected],

[email protected]

Your group can bring placards, streamers, anything rainbow, be in costume on that protest.

imMORAL white shirts are being sold at P250. I’ve attached the design to this email. Contact Mj Yap thru FB or email her @ [email protected]
– Send your name, contact info, number of orders, & t-shirt sizes. I think they have male & female sizes

The Internationall Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), together with Ang LADLAD will have a letter-writing campaign to pressure Comelec to come up with a decision the soonest time possible.

We will inform you once we have uploaded the letter at the website. You can copy & paste the letter together with the email addresses included in the article and send to the Comelec Commissioners, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) who have been so supportive of LGBT rights especially Atty. De Lima.


Please inform us of your intentions/interest for proper coordination with LADLAD

Again Thank You.


Working Programme: ImmoRALLY

November 25, 2009

Plaza Roma, Intramuros, Manila (in front of Comelec Head office)

Assembly time: 9:30 am

Emcees: Naomi Fontanos and Jessie Dimaisip

9:30 Assembly ALL
10:00 Welcome Message
Why we’re here; who were are, etc)
10:05 Statement from L Ging Cristobal
10:10 Statement from G Jonas
10:15 Statement from T Dee or Gia
10:20 Statement from B TBC
10:25 Reading of official statement
10:30 Solidarity Messages2-3 mins Akbayan: Ms. Etta RosalesLikhaan: Dr. Junice Melgar

Task Force Pride

Lawyer’s Groups


Filipino Freethinkers

Single Guys Online

Others (TBC)

Excerpts from statements of:

Rene Saguisag

Joker Arroyo

Raul Pangalangan


11:15 Announcement of formation of a Coalition and Closing remarks Emcees
11:30 –  12:00 Tie a rainbow ribbon Everyone

Posted in Announcements, Meetup, Politics, SocietyComments (3)