The Future of Philippine Secularism

“My people are going to learn the principles of democracy the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men.” 

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk


The Philippine Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, and the perpetual outlawing of a state religion. Being a multi-ethic state, the Philippines is host to numerous religious beliefs and denominations, to which it is obliged to maintain itself to be their safe home all at the same time. Our church-state separation can be likened to a condominium; where many are allowed to occupy its various units but no one can ever claim that he owns it all.

But our post-EDSA history have seen how one religious denomination have played an increasing role in the affairs of state, and in various aspects of Filipino life. Since the Fifth Republic was established in 1987, the Philippines only had one Protestant President (F.V. Ramos), and that can be said as well for the whole of our independent history. We have been accustomed to seeing almost all chambers of government beginning their meetings and sessions with a prayer; a Christian-leaning one at times. For national gatherings, however, we make do with an ecumenical prayer, where the major religions pray together.

I have seen this as well. During my grade school years, I would see how my fellow students would be required to attend First Friday Catholic Masses even if they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, Agnostics, of Iglesia ni Cristo. It was a non-sectarian, secular school. And at my age then, I find that exercise offending.

I studied in a Catholic school during high school and college, and it was pretty much the same. Then, I enjoyed going to mass (because it was the opportune time to sleep) but my teachers would require all to attend. The Philippine Catholic School system admits all students of various faiths, but would not excuse them from Catholic-specific rituals to which, I’m definite, they have no interest in attending.

The increasing involvement of faith in public policy is a serious cause of alarm for many secularists and for many citizens, regardless of denomination. Here, I shall discuss the future of Philippine Secularism, together with brief narratives of international trends of spirituality, and how this dangerous encroachment prevents our government in crafting legislation, or imposing laws.

Why So Catholic?

Prior to Spanish invasion, Filipinos were either Muslims or Pagans. History taught us that most of our ancestors worshiped the sun, the trees, the wind, etc. And this is proven by our mythology. Mythology presents an overview of who people living at a certain time worshiped. In the case of the Hellenics, it was Zeus; in the case of the Romans, it was Jupiter. In our case, it was Bathala. But while we have a flourishing spiritual practice and relationship with the ancient gods at that time, rulers would govern without interference from such, and would maintain affairs of state as secular as possible. The spiritual affairs were left to babaylans, while the state affairs were handled by rajahs and datus.

Spanish Rule changed the way we view spirituality and governance. Perhaps attributable to the fact that at many points of history, the Catholic missionaries also served as government officials. The Governor-General was in charge of ecclesiastical appointments, which made priests highly political figures using their pulpits and Churches as extensions of the Spanish Court.

But at the turn of the Century and today, even Spain has devolved from the concept of faith-influenced policy. Like the Philippines, Spain is a deeply Catholic country, but it has introduced same-sex marriage (2004) and abortion (2010), considered enemies of Catholicism.

The “Vision” Role of Spirituality v. The “De Facto” Role of Spirituality

Our constitution envisions the absolute freedom of every Filipino to believe or not believe in the concept of a divine being. Meaning, a Filipino is free to believe in Satan, in a narra tree, or in Manny Pacquiao as his “God”. In the same manner, the constitution protects its free practice; freedom not only from the choice thereof but freedom to practice it as well.

The state is also disallowed from establishing a state religion; for the establishment of one forfeits the freedom of religion as subsequently guaranteed. Meaning, the state shall never sponsor Islam, Catholicism, or Pacquiaoism as a national religion, and provide funds for its propagation.

Also, the Constitution provides a separation of Church and State where the state shall not interfere in internal church matters as private juridical entities, and where the church or churches is/are not allowed in influencing public policy.

Let us put all these Constitutional clauses to work:

Juan dela Cruz is a satanist. He goes walking to the streets distributing fliers and materials to promote Satanism. He, together with his fellow Satanists, would meet at Starbuck’s every afternoon of Monday to discuss Satanic scripture, listen to Satanic music, and eat Satanic donuts. Is his action legal?”

In the eyes of our Constitution, it is legal. Juan’s exercise is an invokation of his right to religion, free exercise of it, and freedom to propagate it.

“Juan dela Cruz is a satanist. He goes walking to the streets distributing fliers and materials to promote Satanism. He, together with his fellow Satanists, would meet at Starbuck’s every afternoon of Monday to discuss Satanic scripture, listen to Satanic music, and eat Satanic donuts. During Saturday nights, he invites three members and sacrifices them before the altar of his god, Satan. Is his action legal?”

In the eyes of the same Constitution, it is illegal; for even if the altar sacrifice is part of his free exercise of religion, slaughtering another individual is against the law.

What am I trying to establish here?

In this example, we can see how civil, secular law, overrides the supremacy of a religion. For even if an action (in this example, altar sacrifice) in the perspective of a religious denomination is moral, it may be illegal in the eyes of the law. And since we are of various religions here in the Philippines, it is our laws that govern the affairs of our state, and not our religion.

Let us try it in a different, more political context:

“There is a bill filed in the House of Representatives to regulate the selling of boxing gloves because it has been proven that the unregulated sell of such has directly contributed to crimes involving hand-fisted fights. Congressman Juan dela Cruz, a devout Pacquiaoan, indicated dissent for the measure because he said that it violated some lyrics of Manny Pacquiao’s “Para Sa’yo”, Pacquiaoism’s main religious text. However, he can clearly see that the country, and his district, have the highest incident rates of hand-fisted fights. How should he vote on this measure?”

This is where it gets tricky for many lawmakers and politicians in general. The numbers would lean the congressman to vote in favor of regulating the sale of boxing gloves to reduce related crime rates; but his strategic mind would tell him otherwise. Out of fear towards an organized group of people, he will vote against it to enjoy their continued support notwithstanding the long-term fatal effects of his decision. In effect, he has let reason fly out by succumbing to the irrational beliefs of his religion, and deciding against the need of the people he serves. And this is due to his religion.

Secular Thought and the Filipino People

I am not surprised if there is only a handful of Filipinos believing in secular thought. And this is mainly for two reasons: (1) The instilled culture of religious influence in policy decisions; and (2) The economic status of the Filipino people, who needs to work to live and who does not have the time to devote thought on these matters.

In a political context, I define secularism as the full exercise of the state’s discretion on matters directly affecting the citizens without the consideration of the body politic’s religious beliefs. As the Bible have said, “give Ceasar what’s due to him and give to God what is due to God”. Religious beliefs, with the inherent nature of being politically irrational, must not be put in consideration in public policy-making. Should we accord better Social Service benefits to Mormons than to Lutherans? Should we accord three bedroom penthouses to Catholics and leave Muslims living in studio type flats? Should we provide free food and education only to God-believers?

The Church’s moral role is to guide its flock to heaven. The state’s role is to guide its flock on earth. Our society, deeply entrenched in Catholic thinking and philosophy, kills through perception to right of two individuals to contract marriage, or even the basic right of a woman to know what reproductive method suits her context best.

Why the Churches have no Say on Matters of State

First, churches do not pay taxes. Enough said.

Second, churches do not have the monopoly of civil righteousness. They have no experience in governance and cannot weigh in on issues of such nature.

Third, churches have better things to do. They must focus on the dwindling number of believers, the sex scandals they are involved in, and their scandalous lives of extravagance amid their vow to poverty.

Secular is the Way

If the Filipino people will continue to heed the voice of religion on matters of state, we will continue to be divided, for there is no one religion that binds us. But national interest binds us all. On the issue of RH Bill, if we are to put religion aside, we can see that all of its provisions abide by reason. Its provisions operate on equal opportunity. The Catholic way is not the only way.

A Call To Be Involved

I know that many of us associate ourselves with a religious group (I am a Catholic). But let us try to examine issues on the light of unadulterated reason. Let us involve ourselves in policy debates and advocacies without bringing to consideration our religious beliefs, and secure a secular and free future for us all.

May God Bless us all.


About carlomasajo
I am a 21 year old Fine Arts student from the University of Santo Tomas trying to help this nation become a better one.

2 Responses to The Future of Philippine Secularism

  1. davidrke says:

    Well thought out and spot on,great blog,def, worth a follow!

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