CBCP: Catholic Bishops, Criminals of the Philippines

Since Carlos Celdran shouted “Damaso!” Filipinos have been echoing his call for secularism — the separation of church and state. But were they right in asking the CBCP to stay out of politics?

Some people say “no.” They think that however wrong the CBCP is, it’s their right to meddle in politics.

But they’re wrong. Because when the CBCP meddles in politics, they perpertrate a form of tax evasion. (I’ve written about this before, but this time I have a legal precedent.)

The regulations on charitable institutions

The CBCP is registered as a charitable institution. In exchange for doing some public good, the government grants such institutions tax exemptions and privileges. But there’s a catch: charitable institutions must only participate in activities of a charitable nature — religious, educational, scientific.

Once they participate in non-charitable activities — private, commercial, political — their status as a charitable institution is investigated. Which is what happened to the Lung Center of the Philippines in 2004.

The case of the Lung Center of the Philippines

Like the CBCP, the Lung Center of the Philippines is registered as a charitable institution. They are also entitled to tax privileges in exchange for participating in charitable activities: free treatment of patients with lung-related ailments, and other activities that aim to reduce the incidence of lung-related ailments in the country.

But the Quezon city assessor discovered that in addition to their charitable activities, the Lung Center also operated for profit. Because of this, the assessor taxed both the land and the hospital. The Lung center made an appeal, claiming that as a charitable institution, they are exempted from paying real property taxes. They appealed — and lost — to four other courts. Eventually, they brought the case to the Supreme Court.

The Lung Center’s (and CBCP’s) defense

It’s important to understand the arguments used by the Lung Center because they are the same ones used by defenders of the CBCP’s political meddling.

The Lung Center argued that the profit gained from leasing out space (a profitable activity) is used to fund their primary purpose — attending to charity patients, reducing the incidence of lung-related ailments, etc. Defenders of church meddling are saying that meddling in politics (a political activity) fulfills their primary purpose, which is ultimately religious.

Essentially, they’re both saying that although they also participate in non-charitable activities, these activities are performed to further their primary goals. And since their primary goals are still charitable in nature, the organization still qualifies as a charitable institution exempted from paying real property taxes.

But is this defense valid?

The Supreme Court’s decision

The Supreme Court decided that those parts of the hospital leased out for profit are not exempted from taxation. It doesn’t matter whether the profits are used to fund the Lung Center’s main goals. The fact that a non-charitable activity was done at all automatically disqualifies a property from tax exemption.

How does this translate to the case of the CBCP? When a priest makes political statements during a sermon, the church in which the sermon is made is liable for taxation. In the same way, other CBCP properties — publications, radio stations, TV stations — that make political statements should be taxed.

How much politics can a sermon include? To answer this question, let’s review why the Supreme Court decided to tax the Lung Center.

Actually, exclusively, and directly

Before 1973, the arguments of the Lung Center (and the CBCP) would have worked. But since the 1973 Constitution took effect, replacing the 1935 Constitution, their defense is no longer valid. What’s the difference?

Under the 1935 Constitution, properties exclusively used for charitable purposes are exempted from taxation. Under the 1973 Constitution (and our present version), properties must not only be used for charitable purposes exclusively, but actually and directly as well.

What does this mean? Here’s a section of the Supreme Court decision:

What is meant by actual, direct and exclusive use of the property for charitable purposes is the direct and immediate and actual application of the property itself to the purposes for which the charitable institution is organized. It is not the use of the income from the real property that is determinative of whether the property is used for tax-exempt purposes.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the Lung Center uses the money for. The fact that they made money at all is enough to disqualify their hospital from tax exemption.

A property is liable for taxation the moment a non-charitable activity is performed — even if it ultimately serves an institution’s charitable purpose .

In the CBCP’s case, it doesn’t matter whether a political statement is made to ultimately fulfill a relgious purpose. The fact that a political statement is made at all is enough to disqualify a church from tax exemption.

But what if the dominant part of a sermon is religious? What if only a minute out of a half-hour sermon is used to make political statements? Here the Supreme Court ruling is also relevant:

If real property is used for one or more commercial purposes, it is not exclusively used for the exempted purposes but is subject to taxation. The words “dominant use” or “principal use” cannot be substituted for the words “used exclusively” without doing violence to the Constitutions and the law. Solely is synonymous with exclusively.

So in the same way that a single lease could disqualify a hospital from tax exemption, a single political statement could disqualify a church from tax exemption.

Tax-evading Damasos

The CBCP does not have the right to meddle in politics. At least not while they are registered as a tax-exempt charitable institution. If they want to continue their pulpit politicking, they must register as a political institution and pay their dues. Otherwise, they’re just evading taxes. What’s worse, this illegal politicking is funded indirectly by every Filipino — whether they agree with CBCP’s politics or not.

Carlos Celdran was right when he shouted “Damaso!” and called for bishops to stop political meddling. And every tax-paying citizen is right when they make a similar call.

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  1. I am deeply saddened that people nowadays follow the people in the Exodus in Moses' time. They are attracted to secular novelties, of philosophies in life inconsistent with the will of God. I am not disturbed by the 15 or 20 thousand supporters of Celdran who has smashed the Word of God for purely earthly philosophy. He effectively canonized Rizal's Noli Me Tangere his sacred scripture. Christianity has always been anti- statistics, how many people shouted "crucify Christ"? Prophets were called by people because they proclaim God's message that were not acceptable to them.

    • [I am not disturbed by the 15 or 20 thousand supporters of Celdran who has smashed the Word of God for purely earthly philosophy.]

      Nor am I.

      I'm more worried about the several million pinoys who are being led around like mindless sheep by the CBCP.

      [He effectively canonized Rizal's Noli Me Tangere his sacred scripture. ]

      Blasphemy! Everybody knows that the skeptic's trinity is comprised of the Hitchens, Dawkins, and Hawkings!

      Rizal's Noli is not sacred scripture!

      Receive your punishment heathen – you are to bring us…a SHRUBBERY!

      [Christianity has always been anti- statistics, how many people shouted "crucify Christ"?]

      And apparently, your notion of Christianity is anti-common sense as well.

  2. totally agree with zaurah patricia. besides that, i think this author erred in applying the case of lung cancer in this matter. the main reason why lung cancer was partially taxed as ordered by the high court was because they were engaged in profit making transactions. the institution leased some portions of its property for profit. in the case of the cbcp, there's no profit-making effort to speak of to start with, at least not in the legal concept. moreover, just because we are in a country that believes in maxim of the separation of the church of the state do not strip the church or its leaders or its members the right to speak against or in support for a proposition made by the government, just as celdran or anyone for that matter is free to support the RH bill.

    • True. Generally, taxation is derived from the income of an individual or institution. But real properties, whether income-generating or not, are usually taxed (e.g. residential lands.) What is significant in this case is whether a real property is exempted or not under our laws. The author can go to the Supreme Court with a question of law at hand: Whether or not the CBCP, when its original purpose is purely religious but has divested itself substantially into meddling with politics, is still considered exempted from taxes as provided under the constitution. Of course, such extent of meddling must be sufficiently grounded before it can be brought to the SC to have cause of action.

    • [moreover, just because we are in a country that believes in maxim of the separation of the church of the state do not strip the church or its leaders or its members the right to speak against or in support for a proposition made by the government, just as celdran or anyone for that matter is free to support the RH bill. ]

      That doesn't mean they can blackmail their followers with excommunications or threats of not giving communion either. They may not be "illegal," but the fact is that such forms of social coercion were attempted by the CBCP to influence lawmakers to follow their agenda.

      It may not be illegal, but as far as I'm concerned, they're dabbling in a very subtle form of Argumentum ad Baculum, and while we can't tell them to STFU, we are well within our rights to make their attempts public.


      • Blackmail their followers? What exactly did the CBCP say to blackmail the laity or anyone in that matter?

        Excommunication? Who said that the RH Bill proponents and supporters will be excommunicated if they do not change position? It is the pro-RH and irresponsible media people that reported that, not in order to deliver facts but to make a scoop. Can you please quote the clergy that threatens anyone an excommunication?

    • [what did it profit the Church for defending the sanctity of life and marriage other than scorn, ridicule, anger, disrespect, protests, etc… should all these be taxed? ]

      So now you're resorting to playing the victim card.

      It's exactly what your ilk did during the height of the sex abuse scandals – conveniently palm off blame to somebody else.

      Your apologists distort data regarding population management…

      Lied about the "ineffectiveness" of condoms in AIDs prevention…

      And backed the criminalization of gay marriage despite having no solid evidence of its claimed detrimental effect on society.

      …and now the RCC'ss trying to play the victim because the people can finally see through their facade. Face it – your organization has been caught being the bigot on more than one occasion. And when you're told to face your stupidity, you resort to playing the persecution complex, if not blaming the "secular" media for smoking out your crimes.

      They refuse to take responsibility for any of their actions, and instead of quietly hunting down the specific offenders within their ranks, attack the media, and claim that because they did so-and-so good deeds, they're suddenly exempt from punishment.

    • no, those should not be taxed. but if ever the CBCP and other priests would be held criminally, it would not be for tax violations but for those rape cases and child molestations done by a number of priests as well as the cover up from the Church's heirarchy. With all the tragic news of priests being involved as sex offenders, the whole Church loses a substantial amount of credibility as to their claim on the sanctity of life and sex. People could not be blamed for their anger and disrespect towards them who claim the moral high ground. i think they deserve more than mere protests. in fact, these protests are long overdue.

  3. Perhaps if the CBCP substantially divests its function from religious activities into meddling with the government, their real property on which their office stands could be taxed. But if they only give press statements against RH bill and other government dealings once in awhile as incidental to their moral duty empowered by their right of free speech and right to any religious beliefs, they can assert that they have not substantially diverted from their main functions and time on religious affairs. So, i'm afraid this cannot outweigh whatever privileges they have in the present especially if they hire a good lawyer. I guess the issue is on the extent of their meddling and the substantial time they divest to politics and other non-religious affairs, as if losing the very essence of their function which granted them exemption from tax.

    on the other hand, bringing this issue is totally awesome. No one could have brought it up except for someone who is a freethinker by heart. 🙂

  4. I think a press statement from the CBCP or a 10-min sermon during mass to pressure their members who happen to be politicians is incidental to their moral duty, and as Filipinos, the bishops and priests have the right to free speech for as long as they do not go beyond those activities mentioned above.

    In addition, their practice of right of religion or right to their belief as manifested in their free speech becomes violative only when it goes beyond speech and is realized into action that is prejudicial to the public or government.

    And if they go to the Supreme Court for any question of law pertaining to government activities which they think are contrary to moral or public policy, then for that matter they have no legal standing for being a religious institution. On the other hand, I'm not sure if they personally meddle or threaten certain individuals who have positions in specific government instrumentalities or agencies, because if they do, I think we have a case if we have convincing and sufficient evidence to nail them down.

  5. How is it ad hominem? He speaks the truth.

    By using the church for political action, the Bishops are violating tax law. That makes them criminals.

    Learn to deal with the harsh truth, folks.

  6. I can't get past the comment some poster made about the church caring sincerely or resolutely about the poor. The church doesn't care about anything but itself. When did you ever hear the church volunteering or making charitable donations to alleviate poverty in the country when they receive billions in donations each year not only from pagcor but also from church goers and private benefactors. Better yet, have you ever heard of the church opening its gates to house poor people who are displaced from their homes by natural disasters which is a regular occurence here in this country. And they don't want contraceptives to be given to the poor people when population growth is depleting the scarce resources available in this country. Carlos celdran was right. Stay out of politics.

      • …or how about the Catholic Charities in Washington D.C., who cut off their adoption and foster care programs just because they didn't agree with the district's gay marriage law.

        And then there's Bill Breslin, who refused to let a child into the school of his Parish because he had lesbian parents:

        I know their actions do no justify any genuinely good works that Caritas may have done, but my point is this: The more you pretend that the church has some sort of monopoly on the moral high ground, I will be more than happy to call out your bullshit.

        And personally, I'd rather donate my money to the Red Cross.

        • Such position and outlook are caused by an unsophisticated understanding of the teachings of the Church and myopic view of the situation. The child is to be the primary concern.

          The questions below put out by Fr. Breslin clearly express that concern.

          "If a child of gay parents comes to our school, and we teach that gay marriage is against the will of God, then the child will think that we are saying their parents are bad…We don't want to put any child in that tough position — nor do we want to put the parents, or the teachers, at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church."

          "Why would good parents want their children to learn something they don't believe in? It doesn't make any sense. There are so many schools in Boulder that see the meaning of sexuality in an entirely different way than the Catholic Church does. Why not send their children there?"

    • When did we hear you doing even a single good thing? Never. Does that mean you haven't done any? The Church teaches, "Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." The world announces its philanthropy but the Church does not need to make news of its charity. You should not talk about things you do not understand.

  7. The title is a bit off as it already starts attacking in an ad hominem form, hough I like the content.

    The moment the CBCP threatened the government, particularly the president of ex-communication, they already declaring the relinquishing of their right to fax exemption.

    • it would only be considered ad hominem if it was a baseless personal attack but IMHO the title cant be faulted for being one since there was an actual logical basis for criminal activity 🙂

  8. CBCP is a criminal outfit run by Vatican who protecs child abusers & molesters.

    These people teaches fantasy, based on an unprovable being called God (who needs money).

    And Celdran wanted the Church to reform, so that it could exist & give comfort (not to himself) to many, despite of the lies of Christianity.

  9. I think the "Criminals of the Philippines" is a polemic, unfair, and inaccurate description of the CBCP. You should have stick to the topic at hand and reflected this in the title — which is an objective discussion of a case of a tax evasion of the CBCP. If you want fairness, and the CBCP is being unfair to the Filipino taxpayers — then you should fight fair, too. I liked the article, though — but I was a bit horrified with the title.

    • The last time I checked tax evasion *was* a criminal offense. But I get where you're coming from. They may not know they are breaking the law. So they're innocent criminals — but criminals nonetheless.

      I admit that the title may be a bit harsh. But for so long their meddling has derailed human rights progress for women, the LGBT community, and children (particularly victims of child abuse) that I think the title "criminals" is deserved.

      On second thought, it doesn't go far enough. If it started with the letter C, I'd use "monsters" in that title.

      • Even if tax evasion is a criminal offense your title was (which is what I have issue with) is misleading and inaccurate — it is grossly unfair and if I may say so, stupid, — just have a second read of your title "Catholic Bishops, Criminals of the Philippines." Talo mo pa si Joma Sison nyan sa polemics nyan 'bok.

        Pretty elementary, your title should reflect the content of your article. By committing this blunder, you have already turned away "reasonable" people for whom you may have provided a very good information about Church finances — which should concern all citizens of the Philippines — and — the government and tax authorities. The Catholic Church in the Philippines owns schools and other money-making, for-profit ventures. Money is power — and the Church, by meddling in politics uses it, by hook or by crook to get its way.

        On the other hand, no institution in the Philippines cares for the poor as sincerely or as resolutely for the longest time as much as the Catholic Church. — This is also true. So the argument goes both ways.

        So, I stand by my first comment. Your title is unfair, inaccurate, and misleading.

        • [On the other hand, no institution in the Philippines cares for the poor as sincerely or as resolutely for the longest time as much as the Catholic Church. — This is also true. So the argument goes both ways. ]

          Look at the bigger picture, and you will see that they're also used their charitable institutions as an extension of their prejudices.

          And then there is this paper regarding that grants more insight into religious hospitals:

          [It's only been 200 years since America was founded, perhaps in another 200 years the religious will catch up to the secular government in providing charitable medical care. It gets worse for the religious institutions though. Religious hospitals provide fewer medical services than the secular hospitals.

          The Catholic hospitals, despite being publicly funded hospitals, refuse to provide certain medical services on religious grounds. Many Catholic hospitals refuse to provide infertility treatments, birth control, abortion and emergency contraception to rape victims. It is the position of the Catholic church that, "A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault." [9] That means it's a woman's responsibility to get her rapist to wear a condom.

          Catholic hospitals have directives opposing informed consent to patients regarding side effects of potential harmful health care decisions as well as policies preventing euthanasia (whereby a terminally ill patient must be kept on life support despite the patient's demands to end treatment).

          Catholic hospitals aren't alone in promoting their religion in the medical field. Mormon hospitals will refuse sterilization to women who have had less than five children or are younger than 40 years of age. Seventh-day Adventist hospitals won't serve meat or caffinated beverages in their cafeterias. Southern Baptist hospitals won't provide abortion services. ]

          Honestly, I think that the more well-meaning members of their charitable institutions will do far more good by joining organizations that don't follow religious prejudices. Namely, organizations such as the Red Cross, or hospitals that answer to no particular faith.

          It only blemishes their intention to be associated with an organization such as the RCC.

        • [Pretty elementary, your title should reflect the content of your article. By committing this blunder, you have already turned away "reasonable" people for whom you may have provided a very good information about Church finances — which should concern all citizens of the Philippines — and — the government and tax authorities. The Catholic Church in the Philippines owns schools and other money-making, for-profit ventures. Money is power — and the Church, by meddling in politics uses it, by hook or by crook to get its way. ]

          Good point actually. 🙂

          Red, while I do like how you've played around with the meaning of the CBCP acronym, I think it'd make for a more accurate but no less attention-grabbing article if you used a better headline.

          Though admittedly, it's going to be tough looking for an alt with the initials CBCP 🙁

        • I may have taken artistic liberties by using that title, but as I've already explained, it is not unfair, inaccurate, or misleading. When you should be paying taxes but are not, you are perpetrating tax evasion. Tax evasion is a crime, and tax evaders are criminals. If the bishops of the CBCP evade taxes, they are criminals. The "of the Philippines" part only completes the CBCP acronym (and they are still of the Philippines last time I checked. How is this unfair, inaccurate, misleading (let alone stupid)?

          It may be offensive, insensitive, or irreverent, but unless you disagree with the content of the article, it IS fair and accurate, and the content is worthy of that title.

          One other thing. Even though the Catholic Church may care for the poor sincerely, that doesn't have anything to do with their being tax evaders. Being a benevolent criminal doesn't remove your criminal status, does it? A crime is a crime no matter who does it.

          • Well until the CBCP loses its tax-exempt status, it's not fair to call them criminals.

            …at least technically.

            It's the same case as corrupt officials, sleazy legislators, and criminals who have been deemed "innocent," by the Philippine justice system, all because of a mere "technicality." So if we're looking at the Church's predicament as a technicality from this perspective, I see your point, Red.

            If you get what I mean 😉

          • I don't think the CBCP can be called tax evaders or criminals – at least not yet. For now they still have that tax exempt status where they are able to 'legally' avoid paying taxes so they won't have to illegally evade them. Now pointing out that they are not "actually, exclusively, and directly" using their properties for charitable purposes does not automatically strip them off of such tax exemption; that's up to the courts to decide. As such, I believe that taking this to court should be a top priority for the FF. If the courts rule in our favor, then and only then can we compel the CBCP to pay taxes and brand them as tax evaders and criminals if they don't.

          • true, you cant have your cake and eat it too. the CBCP has to choose which one it prefers – to be able to play politics or have tax-exempt status. cant have it both ways…. otherwise as Red rightfully puts it – is technically criminal.

            if the Catholic Church started paying taxes, then some of that money will end up helping the poor they claim to support… so it's win-win – they can meddle all they want in what bill gets passed and they get to help the poor too. it will also give them more incentive to help rally against gov't corruption because its their money too that will go down the drain.

          • E di sana sinabi mo sa title mo: Catholic Church: tax evaders? or Catholic Church of the Philippines: A Case of Tax Evasion.

            Misleading, Inaccurate, Unfair: Look it up in the dictionary. Your title said "CBCB, Catholic Bishops, Criminals of the Philippines" — now does a reader has any inkling by your title that the content is about tax evasion by the Church? WALA NADA.

            The reader expects to read criminal act(s) of the Church or Bishops as criminals, not just about tax evasion. You promised more than you could deliver in your article. Ayun, sana ininclude mo lahat ng accusations mo sa Church. Not just an account of tax evasion of the Church.

            Gets mo?

            For example, let me give you an analogy: you have a case of a kid who steals. You write an account of how that kid stole. Will you put the title "Juan Pobre, Twelve-year Old Criminal of the Philippines."

            Gets mo?

            Sana nagets mo. Adios.

            P.S. Artistic? Your Title? No, it ain't. Not by a long shot.

          • Looks like the title really got to you, Delma. But let me make something clear. My post is not meant to be a news article. It doesn't have to have a title that says everything there is to say about the post. If people want to find out why I called the CBCP criminals they'll read the post, and after doing so, judge for themselves whether the title is valid. The title is the conclusion I have come to based on my own research and analysis. It is not my responsibility to use as a title the conclusion other readers might end up with.

            Nor is it my responsibility to write down all the criminal acts of the church. If my title were "All the Criminal Acts of the CBCP," then that would be a misleading title.

            And about your example of Juan Pobre, a kid who steals: The title "Juan Pobre, Twelve-year Old Criminal of the Philippines" would be an accurate and fair title, not at all misleading.

            Take it easy, Delma 🙂

          • A title, whether it is a news article or not should reflect the content of the article — unless, you are propagandizing/engaging in polemics, ala Joma Sison and his ilk.

            The title "Juan Pobre, Twelve-year Old Criminal of the Philippines" would be an accurate and fair title, not at all misleading." ASUS

            — NGEK. The accurate and fair title would be "Juan Pobre, 12, steals [a banana cue]. LOL.

            Under the laws of the Philippines, a minor under the age of 15 cannot be considered a criminal even if he committed a criminal offense such as stealing. So Mr. Red Tani, pano ba yan?.

            Well, I see, you don't feel responsible for what you write. Good, you've admitted that.

            "The title is the conclusion I have come to based on my own research and analysis." — (of what — about the Church in general or about tax evasion of the Church?)

            Your title therefore was coming from your personal biases and beliefs about the Church — not from the content of this particular article.

            Yes, I should take it easy on people who says that "It is not my responsibility to use as a title the conclusion other readers might end up with."

          • i don't get what the reason for contention is. Does Delma think that tax evasion is not a criminal offense? or that a religious organization is exempt from criminal liability in the same way pedophile priests can get away with child molestation?

          • Nope, I pretty much agree that the Church through some of its activities is guilty of tax evasion. It is a criminal offense and should be investigated by the proper authorities. I liked the content of the article. It's the title that I have issues with, which is unfair, misleading, and inaccurate reflection of the actual article.

      • the freedom of speech/expression is not a conditional right based on tax obligations.

        Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

        • before proceeding if i may suggest, to follow the precedent that you mentioned, the question that needs to be answered is how much money did the Church make as a profit from exercising their "…right [of the people] peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

    • You don't know what you are saying. The Church does not, will not, and cannot give up its freedom to speak because that is its very mission, and the Constitution is not as insane as you think to ask the Church, or any religion for that matter, to give up their rights in exchange with tax exemption.

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