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Right not-to-worship


Rep. Mong Palatino (Kabataan Partylist) quickly withdrew his bill prohibiting the use of government offices for religious worship after flaks rained on it.

Palatino’s bill, which also prohibits the display of religious icons in public offices, seeks to prevent the dominant religion’s monopoly in the use of government facilities. However, its prohibition comes too strong igniting interpretation that it undermines the constitutional guarantee to religious freedom.

The proponent’s objective is to ensure minor religions from being edged out as the government pampers the dominant faith with the right to use state facilities.

Palatino doesn’t have to withdraw his bill. He needs only stress its ecumenical features of giving equal access to all faiths to public facilities.

Yours truly was born and raised under the dominant Christian religion but we agree with Palatino that governance is not a factor of religion and therefore must be shielded from the whims and rituals defined by the Sanhedrin of the dominant faith.

We are reminded of the United Nations Development Programme called “Millenium Development Goals” that the Philippines signed along with 189 countries in 2000. The signatory-countries bind themselves to attain eight goals to improve peoples’ lives, among them, gender equality and empowerment of women, reduction of infant mortality, and enhancing maternal health.

Other countries already enacted reproductive health bills (RHBs) as step to those goals. The Philippines, among the world’s title holders in maternal deaths and infant mortality, is still limping its way as the dominant religion ordains it a mortal sin to empower women to make informed decisions on the size of their families and number of children.

I have written earlier here on a pack of saints who turn the atrium (ground lobby) of the Iloilo Provincial Capitol venue for novena masses every Wednesday noon and last Friday of the month.

Attendance to such rituals doesn’t necessarily translate into better public service. We don’t object to that but what we rile against was the coercive policy of requiring each office to sponsor a mass.

The sponsorship of the masses is rotated among different offices, which means, employees of the sponsoring outfit must cough up sums to buy decors and for the stipend of the minister.

By this time perhaps, devotees of the novena and Friday masses must have accumulated indulgences enough to send their souls to the seventh heaven for which we are happy. But that’s not our raison d’être for being at the provincial government.

Close to 700 Ilonggos are ill, 12 of them already died, from dengue since January, the highest since 2010. The novena and Friday masses can’t solve that but an all out mobilization of people to clean up surroundings and drain breeding grounds of mosquitoes. It also means protecting natural predators like spiders from farm chemicals and people who harvest them for fights.

The constitutional guarantee to religious freedom is often interpreted as freedom to worship. On the other hand, it also means freedom not to worship. In the Capitol experience, employees are made to contribute funds so those who want to worship can have money to buy flowers and pay for the minister’s services. There is no free choice here since the contribution has become an obligation.

I go for freedom-not-to-worship for the simple reason that good governance transcends sectarian interests. We are in government to serve people regardless of religion.

The worshipper is not exactly the dedicated and responsive public servant, as experience teaches us. Let’s retreat a few years back to the regime headed by a prayer-mumbling, rosary- kneading, miracle-hoping president whose religiosity was beyond reproof. Cabinet meetings have become de facto prayer meetings under Its watch.

It has all the opportunity to reverse history by liberating this wretched land country from the clutches of the IMF-World bank. Instead of abrogating unjust debts incurred by Its predecessor and the interests imposed by international usurers, It issued EO 292 (Section 31) which is still in effect to date, that automatically appropriates 30 percent plus of the national budget for debt servicing.

We lost our jewels—PAL, PETRON, PLDT, NDC, MERALCO, NAPOCOR, etc. from the privatization ground works of Its regime.

Poverty worsened as result. Some sectors even want It canonized as saint for her piety, my foot!


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