Separation of church and state in the Philippines

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Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Philippines.




The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines declares: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6), and, 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).

Benevolent neutrality-accommodation

The Supreme Court of the Philippines, ruling in 2003 <ref name=escritor2003> 2003 RP Supreme Court ruling in Estrada vs. Escritor.</ref> and 2006 <ref name=escritor2006> 2006 RP Supreme Court ruling in Estrada vs. Escritor.</ref> in the landmark case of Estrada vs. Escritor, established the doctrine of benevolent neutrality-accommodation. The 2006 ruling, penned by now-Chief Justice Puno, explained benevolent-neutrality in the context of U.S. jurisprudence as follows:


The ruling went on to cite a U.S. Supreme Court decision which had held that if prohibiting the exercise of religion is merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended.<Ref> Template:Ussc</Ref> Though concurring in the decision, Justice O'Connor dissented strongly from the rationale, arguing that a compelling state interest test should have been applied.<Ref>

Flowers, Ronald B [1994]. That Godless Court?: Supreme Court Decisions on Church-State Relationships. Westminister John Knox Press. ISBN 0-664-25562-0. “As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor insisted in her strong dissent from the rationale in Smith, the First Amendment was "enacted precisely to protect the rights of those whose religious practices are not shared by the majority and may be viewed with hostility.... The compelling interest test reflects the First Amendment's mandate of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. For the Court to deem this command a luxury, is to denigrate [t]he very purpose of a Bill of Rights.” </Ref>

Echoing Justice O'Connor's point from the U.S. case, the ruling in Estrada vs. Escritor went on to quote her as having said: strict scrutiny is appropriate for free exercise challenges because “[t]he compelling interest test reflects the First Amendment’s mandate of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society.<ref name=escritor2006/>

The ruling then declared Underlying the compelling state interest test is the notion that free exercise is a fundamental right and that laws burdening it should be subject to strict scrutiny, and summarized a three-part compelling state interest test by quoting Michael W. McConnell as follows:

If the plaintiff can show that a law or government practice inhibits the free exercise of his religious beliefs, the burden shifts to the government to demonstrate that the law or practice is necessary to the accomplishment of some important (or ‘compelling’) secular objective and that it is the least restrictive means of achieving that objective. If the plaintiff meets this burden and the government does not, the plaintiff is entitled to exemption from the law or practice at issue. In order to be protected, the claimant’s beliefs must be ‘sincere’, but they need not necessarily be consistent, coherent, clearly articulated, or congruent with those of the claimant’s religious denomination. ‘Only beliefs rooted in religion are protected by the Free Exercise Clause’; secular beliefs, however sincere and conscientious, do not suffice. <Ref> McConnell, Michael W. (May 1990). "The Origins and Historical Understanding of Free Exercise of Religion". Harvard Law Review 103 (7): 1409-1513.  </Ref>

The ruling noted that the current prevailing view under U.S. law is that that there are no required accommodation under the First Amendment, although it permits of legislative accommodations. Considering Philippine jurisprudence, though, the ruling said:


These landmark decisions in Estrada vs. Escritor established that benevolent neutrality-accommodation is the framework by which free exercise cases must be decided in the Philippines. This amounts to a requirement that any law which conflicts with a violator's sincerely held religious beliefs must pass a strict scrutiny test in order to be enforceable.


By passing through the numerous phases of colonial occupation, the relationships between religions and government in the Philippines has repeatedly changed. The country had close ties between Roman Catholic Church and the government during the Spanish colonial period from 1565 to 1898. This changed with the separation of church and state of the Philippine republic of 1899. Religious freedom was introduced during the American colonial period of the early 20th century and is preserved by state today.

Early christianization

Beginning with the christianization of most of the Philippines in the 16th centurty, political power was shared by the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish civil authorities. Horacio de la Costa, a Filipino Jesuit historian, mentions that the rules governing the cooperation of the two entities was set in the “Patronato Real de las Indias”, a combination of law and jurisprudence that governed the delicate relationship of the Holy See and the Spanish monarchy regarding colonial affairs. In the agreements, the Roman Catholic clergy gave the Spanish monarchy the responsibility of promoting, maintaining, and defending the Roman Catholic religion in... all Spanish dominions overseas <ref name=DlCosta> de la Costa, Horacio [1976]. Church and State under the Patronato Real. Loyola School of Theology, Quezon City. </ref> (1). In return, the Spanish were permitted to exercise numerous rights to autonomously govern the colonial Roman Catholic Church virtually independent of Roman jurisdiction <ref name=DlCosta />(2-3). On the other hand, Teodoro Agoncillo, a Filipino historian from the University of the Philippines, mentions that the collaboration enabled the Spanish to readily subjugate the Indios (“native Filipinos”) by a potent combination of secular and religious might <ref name=Agoncillo> Agoncillo, Teodoro [1990]. History of the Filipino People. GAROTECH Publishing, Quezon City. </ref> (80). The successful Legazpi conquest of the Philippines in 1565 recognized the power of clergy by bringing along Augustinian friar, navigator and priest Andrés de Urdaneta, to help control the natives <ref name=Agoncillo />(74) and other Spanish rulers acknowledged the importance of clergy. A Mexican viceroy (quoted in Agoncillo) said that in each friar in the Philippines, they had a captain and a whole army <ref name=Agoncillo />(75). However, Church involvement had numerous ill effects, as antifriar Marcelo H. del Pilar of the late 19th century complains:

The friars control all the fundamental forces of society in the Philippines. They control the educational system, for they own the University of Santo Tomas, and are the local inspectors of every primary school. They control the minds of the people because in a dominantly Catholic country, the parish rectors can utilize the pulpit and confessionals to publicly or secretly influence the people. <ref name=Agoncillo />(79)

Government allowed ecclesiastical authorities to hold responsibilities in the areas of communication, defense, and even municipal government. There were numerous abuses conducted by the clergy, fanning the dislike of clergy through the archipelago. This harmonious relationship between the civil authorities and the ecclesiastical authorities, nonetheless, was often marked by friction between their divergent interests. Through the conflicts of Don Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera with Fray Hernando Guerrero, and Governor Juan de Vargas with Archbishop Felipe Pardo, the constant disagreement and incompatibility of the two proved to be a persistent feature of Spanish rule (5-9). The infighting continued and reached its peak when Fr. Mariano Gomez, Fr. Jose Burgos, and Fr. Jacinto Zamora were executed by civil authorities in 1865<ref name=Agoncillo />(125). Social discontent ensued and that led to the Philippine Revolution decades later. The Spanish were unable to cope with multiple uprisings since their limited military was overextended. Bereft of the civil protection, clerics were at their most vulnerable. Rather than accept change, numerous friars handled the Mausers and Remingtons when the tide of battle was going against the colonial government <ref name=Agoncillo />(243). As the status quo was being changed, the ties between Church and State began to fall apart.

Filipino nationalists in 1898 framed a constitution for an independent Philippine republic. There were heated discussions on the provision on state and religion <ref name=Agoncillo />(206). Felipe Calderon presented his draft proposal calling for Roman Catholicism to be made a state religion. According to Jesuit historian John Schumacher, Calderon then attacked the position of Apolinario Mabini who insisted on the separation of church and state <ref name=Schumacher> Schumacher, John [1976]. Church and State in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Loyola School of Theology, Quezon City. </ref> <ref name=DlCandSchumacher> de la Costa, Horacio; John Schumacher [1976]. Church and State: The Philippine Experience. Loyola School of Theology, Quezon City. </ref> (31). The Calderon proposal, however, was defeated by a single vote, and the provision was finally passed. The constitution of 1899 states in Article 5:

The State recognizes the freedom and equality of all religions, as well as the separation of Church and State.

Introduction of religious freedom

Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States, who crushed the Philippine republic forces. Schumacher cites that William Howard Taft, the head of the Second Philippine Commission and the first civil governor of the Philippine Islands, was very much aware of the need to defuse anti-friar feeling throughout the islands. He requested the friars be leave their parish posts. Many of the friars left voluntarily, and were replaced by native Filipino priests in lower ranks and American bishops in the ranks of the episcopacy. Negotiations also began for the compulsory sale of vast Roman Catholic Church holdings. Although the sale was affected by pressure from influential sectors like some bishops and certain delegates, it achieved Taft’s goal of sequestering all the Roman Catholic Church lands, something that the ill-fated Philippine Republic had failed to achieve. After taking the land, the governor intended to redistribute the land <ref name=Schumacher /><ref name=DlCandSchumacher />(38-39). This not only reduced the financial position of the Roman Catholic Church, but also diminished the influential clout it had during the Spanish colonial period.

American jurisprudence reintroduced separation of church and state relying on the First Amendment and the metaphor of Thomas Jefferson on the wall of separation... between church and state <ref name=Goldberg> Goldberg, George; Horacio de la Costa [1987]. Church, State and Constitution. Regnery Gateway, 19, New York. </ref> (10), but the Philippine experience has shown that this theoretical wall of separation has been crossed several times by secular authorities. Schumacher states that in 1906, the Philippine Supreme Court intervened in the issue of parish ownership by returning assets seized by the Philippine Independent Church, while certain charitable organizations managed or influenced by the Roman Catholic Church were either returned or sequestered.

The provision of the 1935 charter on religion mimicked the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, but the sentences

The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall be forever allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights were appended and this section became the basis for the non-establishment of religion and freedom of religion in the Philippines

<ref name=Sison> Sison, Carmel [1988]. Comparative study of the 1987, 1973 and 1935 Philippine constitutions. Diliman, Quezon City: Law Publishing House, Legal Resources Center, U.P. Law Complex. </ref> (14).

With the guarantee of religious freedom in the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Church clergy subsequently remained in the political background as a source of moral influence for many voters during electons until today. Political candidates generally court the clergy for support, although this does not guarantee victory for a candidate. The Philippines was placed under martial law by dictator Ferdinand Marcos and relations changed dramatically, as some bishops opposed the martial law <ref name=Bacani> Bacani, Teodoro [1987]. The Church and Politics. Clarentian Publications, Diliman, Quezon City. </ref> (75).

A new constitution was ratified in 1973 which included the separation of church and state clause, signaling a new development in the body of law on religious affairs <ref name=Sison/>(5). Joaquin Bernas, a Filipino Jesuit specializing in constitutional law, acknowledges that there were complex issues that were brought to court and numerous attempts to use the separation of Church and State against the Roman Catholic Church, but he defends the statement, saying that the fact that he [Marcos] tried to do it does not deny the validity of the separation of church and state <ref name=Bernas> Bernas, Joaquin [1995]. The intent of the 1987 Constitution writers. REX Book Store, Quezon City. </ref> (86).

The Roman Catholic Church was instrumental in winning support for Corazon Aquino who replaced Marcos as president with Cardinal Sin calling for support. Aquino then initiated a new constitutional commission to frame a new charter again for the country. It is noted that Roman Catholic religious and clergy like Sr. Christine Tan, R.G.S., a nun, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., a priest, and Bishop Teodoro C. Bacani became part of the 1986 Constitutional Commission and left their mark on the promulgation of the charter and its numerous provisions on the Church and state <ref name=Bacani />(105).



  • Church in Politics. Manila, 1992.

See also

External links


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