Although it is true that much of Philippine law is based on U.S. law and Philippine court cases refer often to U.S. legal cases, the two sets of laws originated in very different historical and social settings. By sets of laws I mean the respective Constitutions and the respective case law originating in relevant court decisions.
The difference in "religious framework" between the two nations is clear in reading the Preambles to the Constitutions for both nations:
- United States: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- Philippines: We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society, and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.
The U.S. seeks the "blessings" of "Liberty", the Philippines "independence and democracy" with the "aid of Almighty God".
How many times is "God" mentioned in the U.S. Constitution?
Well, the U.S. was founded to enable Americans to ESCAPE the tyranny of religion imposed by Great Britain, not to mention taxation that the locals believed was punitive. So the writers of the U.S. Constitution intentionally marked out God. The Philippines, fully saturated with Spanish religious passions and doctrine, believes it is only whole with God's help. The respective Constitutions will therefore have distinct meanings and interpretations.
Both Constitutions deal with: (1) the separation of church and state, and (2) the right of people to worship as they wish. On separation of church and state, we read:
- United States: . . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.(Article VI, Clause 3)
- Philippines: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6)
On freedom to worship, we read:
- United States: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." (First Amendment)
- Philippines: 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 III, Section 5).
A letter from Thomas Jefferson, a principal writer of the U.S. Constitution, to the Danbury Baptist Association formed the foundation of U.S. case law supporting the "wall" of separation between church and state. Jefferson wrote:
- I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
This document has been cited in numerous court rulings that represent the case law that restrains the Church from interfering in politics at risk of losing certain privileges (the privilege not to pay taxes, in the main).
The Philippines lacks this essential benchmark demarcation. Therefore, there is no clear restraint upon churches that wish to engage in political activities. Indeed, precedent in the Philippines strongly supports church engagement in politics. "Friarocracy" extends from the days of Spanish rule all the way past foreign occupancies, a dictatorship and various iterations of the Constitution to reside heartily in the fabric of Philippine politics today.
The term "inviolable" used in the Philippine Constitution to describe the term "separation" means "not violable; not susceptible of violence, or of being profaned or corrupted; incapable of being injured; not to be infringed or dishonoured" [wiktionary]. It is a soft term, easily challenged as anything other than a firm wall. Indeed, a synonym is "holy". Clearly, there is no wall in the Philippines.
But a problem arises when there are conflicts between national interest and the interests of different faiths.
How to resolve them . . . How to resolve them . . .
I personally like the eloquent way U.S. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who became the first Catholic U.S. President, explained how he would deal with potential conflicts between his faith and his oath to defend national interests:
- I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote—where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference—and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials—and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. [...] I do not speak for my church on public matters—and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise. But if the time should ever come—and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible—when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.
Now lets head back to the Philippines where President Aquino is today facing one of those tests, faith against national interest, on the RH Bill. His way of dealing with it is through signals, citing "responsible parenthood" in his 2012 SONA, then stepping back and letting legislators wrestle with the beast, faith versus national need. Don't look for President Aquino to resign because his conscience is conflicted.
Well, legislators' LOCAL NEED for re-election trumps national need, so they have been dragging their faith-bound feet, or as I would look at it, sticking their faith-bound heads in the sand, whilst the Philippines heads directly toward certain chaos and confrontation rooted in over-population and poverty. Like, say, during the next severe economic downturn, when the left-wing rabble rousers will rise and raise the angry cry "monopoly capitalist American puppy", rile up the masses of poor and starving people, and bring down the state.
Therein lies the difference between the definitions of "separation" in the U.S. and Philippines. One sees separation as a firm wall, the other a wall with a big door in the middle. And through the door stomp outspoken priests who do not seem to have national interest first and foremost in their minds.
In the U.S., it is considered good to be "of faith", but one can push religion only so far. It is fine for a President to go to Church. It would be wrong for him to step to the pulpit and recruit Americans to his faith. It is fine for a Priest to step to the Legislative podium to open a session in prayer. But he cannot speak from the Church pulpit in favor of one candidate over another without risk of punishment.
In the Philippines, oddly enough, there is more "freedom" than in the U.S. Indeed, the Catholic Church and Iglesia Ni Cristo operate as clan leaders, instructing their flock on the "correct" vote on various political contests. And candidates actively seek church endorsements, thus selling their favor-trading souls and votes to the God of their choice, the God of their district.
The purpose of laws is to protect us from ourselves.
In the Philippines, laws do not protect broad, secular national interest from narrow religious doctrine.