POSTSCRIPT / July 23, 2020 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Church has the duty to protect its flock

THE CHURCH has the right, as well as the duty, to defend its flock against abuse from all quarters, including agents of the state – in the same way that the state has the obligation to protect the citizens from abuse in the name of religion.

This is the context in which this citizen and member of the Church, appreciates Article II, Section 6, of the Constitution that says: “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”

The senior legal adviser of President Duterte has said that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines appears to have violated this section when it issued Thursday a pastoral letter assailing the President’s signing on July 3 the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (RA 11479).

Seeing nothing wrong in the CBCP’s giving counsel to its flock on the ATA, we deplore any attempt to suggest or create a disagreement, or foment an unnecessary and unfortunate division among us.

The very preamble of the Constitution opens with: “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….”

In effect declaring ourselves as not an atheistic nation, we recognize the Almighty God whose aid we implore in times of need, as in these tumultuous times marked by a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and incessant moves to stifle our basic freedoms.

For reasons similar to why we do not want our body separated from our soul – for such parting means death – we ask that we not be forced to choose between our Church and the civil government.

We pray that while the Church and the State keep their respectful distance they will eventually end in a spiritual embrace leading to closer collaboration for the greater comfort and well-being of us all.

Members of the clergy do not surrender or concede the diminution of their political rights. If they have all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications, priests can (and do) run for public office within the purview of the separation of Church and State.

Religion is not a mysterious set of beliefs that we leave at the chapel door after church services. On the contrary, we believe that internalizing and living by our faith make us well-rounded citizens and bring us closer to being true children of God.

We submit that religion, or at least a good measure of morality merged with spirituality, must permeate all aspects of human life – including government. Taking morality out of public service results in corruption and suffering.

To our mind, the provision for the separation of Church and State simply mandates that there not be an official religion or denomination, and that government shall not use its resources for, or give undue advantage to, a favored religion.

Neither should the Church unduly dictate on the government. Instead, it must work openly within accepted democratic procedures when it desires to influence official policies and programs.

We believe that while the State and the Church walk parallel to each other toward the same goal of promoting the welfare of their common constituency, they could touch each other ever so gently at some points and join hands in serving the people.

Since members of the Church, including the clergy, are citizens enjoying the same political rights, the government must listen to them in good faith. It is the reciprocal duty of the Church to listen and consider what the government tries to do for the common good.

The Church does this as we have seen, for instance, in its limiting the crowds entering places of worship as prescribed by the government to regulate social distancing in this time of Covid-19.

The pastoral letter cited was issued by acting CBCP president Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David of Kalookan. Find full text at https://tinyurl.com/y4f43688

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, reacting to presidential senior legal adviser Salvador Panelo’s saying that the CBCP letter “appears to have” violated the constitutional provision on the separation of Church and State, said those who think so should file a case in court.

Pabillo: “Don’t we have a right to speak on the shortcomings of the government? Just because we are part of the Church, does it mean we can no longer speak? We are also citizens. Precisely we are doing that to open the eyes of the people.”

 SONA may draw focus on Duterte’s health

THE WAY the preparations are shaping up for the state of the nation address of President Duterte before the joint opening session of the Congress on Monday, the SONA may just draw attention instead to the state of the President’s health.

The Palace spokesman said Duterte will go to the Batasan in Quezon City to read the annual report in an almost deserted cavernous plenary hall. Instead of the throng that usually attends the SONA, there will only be about 50 this time.

Sparse attendance is not unusual in this pandemic time. Pope Francis delivered his last urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world) Lenten message in an empty St. Peter’s with the magic of the internet live-streaming his words, unedited, to a global audience.

Not being invited to the SONA is actually a big relief to the usual guests, including foreign ambassadors and dignitaries, officials from the three branches of government plus their spouses and security details.

The big difference, significant to us, is the banning of private media coverage of the momentous event. As we understand it, only the designated government communication team will cover the SONA with the rest of us relying on what is fed to us.

The denial of full access to private media, particularly to the grueling hour-long speech of the President, raises the question of why Malacañang does not want him seen and heard delivering his SONA.

The possible exposure to Covid-19 is no reason since the entire premises could be sanitized days ahead. They do not want closeup, uninterrupted, unedited videos of the President to give hints of his true physical condition?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 23, 2020)

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