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Separation of church and state

The doctrine of separation of church and state was the reason given by the Iglesia ni Cristo for mounting a five-day protest action that riled thousands of motorists. But why did the INC find the need to do it along the intersection of Edsa and Shaw Boulevard, two of the busiest roads in the metro area? Why not the Luneta park or somewhere else where they could demonstrate to their hearts’ content without causing so much misery to motorists? 

Instead of generating sympathy from the public, the exact opposite happened. The problem also became much bigger with the public getting educated instead of the inner workings of the INC which is not good for its image. The complaint of a former INC minister before the Department of Justice alleging that he was being harassed and forcibly detained by certain leaders of the INC has also contributed to the negative publicity against the INC. And when Secretary De Lima started to initiate an investigation, the INC launched the protests demanding the removal of Secretary De Lima and the stoppage of the investigation. The INC said: “this problem is a family matter” and that it is protected by the Constitution.

Many people questioned the real motive of the INC protest action given that it happened just a few months before the upcoming 2016 presidential elections. Many viewed the protest actions as a show of force and there is ample evidence to this. The government was unsure of what to do and just before the end of their protests, the INC leadership announced that the government has agreed to the INC demand prompting one columnist to proclaim the surrender of the government.

Was there in fact a deal and if there was, what was the deal?

Since the strongest suit of the INC is its being able to vote as a block, it must be in this area that a deal was made if there was such a deal. Perhaps the INC threatened not to vote for the administration candidates if the investigations did not stop. Secretary De Lima was quoted as saying that the investigation continue but in yesterday’s papers, she said that her job was simply to monitor high profile cases which could be interpreted as the case being dead on its tracks. One thing that disgusted a lot of people was the way a lot of the politicians and local executives behaved.  For the local government units, the INC did not have any problem procuring their rally permits in contrast to other groups who find it almost impossible to secure one. Why would the City of Mandaluyong even give a rally permit along Edsa and Shaw Boulevard knowing that any activity there would congest traffic? It was as if the INC planned it that way and the city officials went along with it.

The politicians vying for national offices were also no better. Their pronouncements supporting the INC rallies were abysmal to say the least and they should be ashamed. Even Grace Poe who has been saying the right things stumbled on this issue. And the lawyers among them should perhaps go back to law school.

The protests had nothing to do with religion but had everything to do with showing who is boss. Knowledgeable people estimate that the INC vote is about 2 million. In a close national election, this may make a difference. This is the reason why the INC has a lot of political clout in government and candidates are prepared to do almost anything to court its support. But this is where the INC argument of separation of church and state is flawed. The INC cannot seem to make the distinction that the complaints filed by former INC Minister Isaias Samson was not against the INC as a church but against individual members of the church who allegedly violated provisions of the Revised Penal Code.

These individuals are not above the law. If the INC cannot understand this basic and elementary issue, then this country is in trouble.

The doctrine of separation of church and state is an American concept that found its way to our shores. In Europe, there is no such thing. The history of Europe has been the issue of who should be the boss—the Pope or the King. The Pope was both a temporal and spiritual ruler until less than a hundred years ago when he was relegated to the confines of a 105-acre portion of Rome known as the Vatican. He is still head of the government but only rules the Vatican. His strength is on moral issues.

The head of the Church of England is the Queen who is also the head of state. Our own Spanish colonial history was characterized by the continuous feuding between the Archbishops of Manila and the governor general. Parish priests were also the head of many local government units. Even now with our constitution guaranteeing the separation of church and state, the influence of the Catholic Church is immense. Where else would you see presidential candidates trooping to a Cardinal asking for his blessing? The Catholic Church represented by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines also finds it necessary to issue a statement on many facets of Filipino life even on issues that do not involve doctrines and morals.

One could say that not much have changed since the Spanish times. Maybe the problem of the INC is that there display of power was more brazen unlike the Catholic Church which does it with subtlety. But many would say that there is a lot of similarity between the two.

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