(1) Does a Bishop or other high ranking member of the Catholic Church hierarchy have the right under the Constitution to participate in "partisan political activities" such as the filing of impeachment complaints, as Bishop Iniguez did?
The relevant provision is:
1987 Constitution Bill of Rights Art III Section 5. 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.It appears incontrovertible that yes, even if they wear funny hats, Catholic Bishops most definitely have the right and the duty to participate fully in politics, just like any other ordinary citizen of the Republic. Apart from voting in elections, Bishops are even allowed to "meddle" in politics, no more and no less than any other citizen. Yet it is widely misconceived that that Separation of Church and State means that churchmen may not involve themselves in partisan politics. It most indubitably does NOT mean that. But here is a more difficult question:
(2) Does the Catholic Church, as an organized religion, as a nondemocratic, indeed hierarchical-monarchic-theocratic community of believers, have the right under the Constitution to participate in "partisan political activities"? Would it be legal for example, for the CBCP itself to become an institutional signatory to the impeachment complaints?
During the controversy over certain Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohamed last year, I had come to the conclusion that the individual's "freedom of religion" as vouchsafed by democratic Constitutions, is a logical extension of the perhaps more basic constitutional right of every person to be secure in his own person and that of his home and his possessions, including his thoughts, opinions and hence, his religious beliefs. The freedom of religion in other words, is really a special case of exercising the freedom of speech and expression. Carrying forward this metaphor, what are to make of an organized religion like the Roman Catholic Church? In my opinion, churches are exercises in the freedom of peaceful assembly. They are like NGOs perpetually engaged in demonstrations and rallies that they call "the liturgy of worship." Or, churches may be regarded as equivalent to newspapers, both being forms of "organized opinion" as far as the Constitution and the State are concerned. Freedom of Religion IS Freedom of Speech and Expression.
ERGO: Yes! the Catholic Church itself, or any subset of its membership banding together as an assembly of individual citizens, may legally participate in the democratic process of impeaching the Chief Executive, by signing one of the complaints. Various churches through the ages have already been exercising such freedoms of assembly and expression during election season, when they openly or discreetly endorse political candidates. Or, as in the case of Bro. Eddie, when they actually have run for the Presidency and there was no talk of Separation of Church and State.
(3) Does the Catholic Church, as a matter of its own internal laws and policies, allow Bishops or other high ranking officers to particpate in "partisan political activities."?
Deus Caritas Est ("God Is Love")--Pope Benedict's first encyclical as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church -- which is being mentioned in the news in connection with the Palace's criticism of Caloocan City Bishop Deogracias Iniguez decision to sign the current impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. When asked by Dong Puno about the propriety of his action he quoted or referred to this passage from the Encyclical:
The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.This is about as finely balanced as the Constitutional provision on the neutrality of the State relative to Religion. But there is clearly no blanket prohibition against participating in politics. What there is, is a carefully calibrated and modernized version of "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God, what is God's."
As such, it actually boils down to the individual consciences of Bishops and clergy. And as such, the Palace may now have further sleepless night. For there is one thing about the Catholic Bishops. They tend to stick to together on most things. Once one or more of them take a strong moral stand and make a strong moral judgment, as Bishop Iniguez has done, the tendency is for his colleagues to let him run with the ball and for everyone to start coming off the fence.
No wonder Bishop Iniguez set off alarm bells at the Palace.