Monday, January 17, 2011

The Monotheistic Republic of the Philippines

On one side of all debates about Separation of Church and State in the Philippines, the most quoted provision of the 1987 Philippine Constitution is its Preamble:
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, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.
For example former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban (now a regular newspaper columnist) in a public address to seminarians of the Royal Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas  (Feb. 19, 2002 UST Martyrs Hall and reproduced in his book Saving the Constitutional System) defends his creation and imposition of The Centennial Prayer of the Courts which precede every Philippine Court session [sic!] :
Many people, including some men and women of the cloth, are surprised why the Supreme Court has an official prayer. They ask: is this not a violation of the separation of church and state? The answer is "no." Let me explain.

The Philippines is theist, not atheist, not even agnostic. In fact, it is monotheist; it worships one God.  [emphasis DJB's]
That is why our Constitution begins with this significant first phrase: "We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God x x x." You may want to know that both houses of Congress and the Cabinet also preface their sessions with prayers.
So there you have it folks! The Monotheistic Republic of the Philippines. From the pen of no less than its distinguished former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. My rebuttal after the jump...


It is time to lance this boil and deprive it of any claim to the credence of thoughtful and rational men as being in any way descriptive of the very essence of the Republic of the Philippines.

Mr. Panganiban basically concludes and asserts that "The Philippines is theist..." solely on the observation that the Constitution opens with "a significant first phrase" in which we do indeed find The Filipino People to be "imploring the aid of Almighty God" as they create and promulgate their Constitution.

Now please notice, gentle reader, the two phrases "The Philippines" and "The Filipino People" in the paragraph above.

Do they refer to one and the same thing? I don't think so and let me explain why.

First, let me concede that "The Filipino People" do indeed appear to be THEIST for imploring the aid of "Almighty God."  But does this mean that the GOVERNMENT (which the Filipino People are indeed imploring Almighty God  for aid to establish) can consider itself to be theist and act accordingly?  Does it mean that any institution, organization or commission created by their Constitution automatically is also theist and in fact monotheist?

Here I am distinguishing between the Filipino People and the institution of Government which they are creating, defining and most of all LIMITING by each and every provision of the Constitution that comes AFTER the Preamble.

If we assume that the Filipino People are theist in the Preamble, does it mean the Government is also theist?  I don't think so because in the Bill of Rights provision on Freedom of Religion we find the People laying down explicit provisions on Government and Religion which does not at all suggest they are creating a theistic Government.  On the contrary. Here we have the admittedly theistic Filipino People creating a decidedly nontheistic, religiously neutral Government "in order to build a just and humane society!" --
1987 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.
These provision on Freedom of Religion and Worship are clearly directed at the Government. Here the theistic Filipino People are creating a Government that is obviously nontheistic!

In coming to his conclusion that "The Philippines is theist" however, Mr. Panganiban is no longer referring to the Filipino People but to the Government (which makes the laws and regulates exercise of civil and political rights by the citizens).

This is a grave error of Reading Comprehension on the part of the former Chief Justice. "The Filipino People" is absolutely not the same thing as the Government they create and delimit in the Constitution they have promulgated, even with its "theistic" Preamble.

The Filipino People can say or do virtually anything since it is their Constitution. But NOT the Government which they have prohibited from either promoting or opposing Religion in the Bill of Rights.  Even if the Filipino People are conceded to be theistic, they can still create a nontheistic Government as a NECESSARY vehicle towards a just and humane society.


GabbyD said...

there is a difference between religion and theism.

Anonymous said...

I would say that the portion in the preamble which reads "We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society" is unconstitutional because it violates the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship. For sure, not all Filipinos believe in the existence of an almighty God. The government is bias to those who believe in God. The preamble is anti-atheist. Those who made it are respecter of persons. They only think about believers of God. Let us be reminded that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. Those who chose to be free from religion are being set aside. For sure you will not agree if we change the preamble to "We, the sovereign Filipino people, deny the existence of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society". So why include "imploring the aid of Almighty God" when not all Filipinos believe in the existence of God.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

What is IN the Constitution cannot be "unconstitutional". The best we can do is to construe what we find there in a manner that will make the document internally SELF-CONSISTENT.

In the present case, we need to RECONCILE the Preamble with the Bill of Rights provision on Separation of Church and State. That can be achieved by clearly distinguishing between the Filipino People and the Government they are establishing by promulgating this Constitution.

My thesis in this post is that in the PREAMBLE, the sovereign Filipino People are found to be "imploring the aid of Almighty God" in order to establish a Government for a just and humane society, and other noble purposes. But in the Bill of Rights, that same sovereign God-fearing people, realizing that Freedom of Religion cannot thrive in a theocratic state, impose on the Government they are establish a strict neutrality with regards to Religion. Indeed, the Bill of Rights protects Freedom of Religion as strongly as Freedom from Religion. There is equal protection for atheists and believers alike!

In other words, the People can do anything, even pronounce the word "God" in the Preamble, but in the Bill of Rights they FORBID the Government from itself doing so. (( Do as I say, not as I do! )) if you like.

In this way, we are not forced to your assertion that the Preamble of the Constitution of unconstitutional. That would be a logical DISASTER!


Anonymous said...

Dean Jorge Bocobo,

Thank you for replying to my comments. I am not a lawyer, so I am not in the position to argue with a lawyer, but as far as my knowledge of law is concerned, the Preamble is not part of the Constitution. You have mentioned that "What is IN the Constitution cannot be "unconstitutional". I must be lacking in knowledge about the Constitution because I thought that the Preamble is NOT part of the Constitution. The Constitution is the fundamental law of the land and the Preamble is not a law. It is an introductory and explanatory statement that explains the Constitution's purpose and underlying philosophy. Anyway, I honestly believe that the portion of the Preamble which reads "imploring the aid of Almighty God" should be removed due to the following reasons:

1. It is bias to those who believe in the existence of Almighty God and discriminates those who don't. It is in fact offensive to those who do not believe in the existence of God.

2. Nobody can prove the existence of an Almighty God. Although, most people believe in its existence, there is no proof that God really exist. In other words, that portion which reads "imploring the aid of Almighty God" is purely a hearsay and has no factual basis. I cannot accept a Preamble which content is based on hearsay.

3. There must be a factual separation between Church and State. Involving God in the Preamble is a clear indication that the government is promoting religion. We need to put up a high wall of separation between church and state.

Ben Vallejo said...

I think Dean, you have to put a cap on this non theism in government thingy. Theism obeys Darwinian laws.

Show me an example of any attribute of Homo sapiens that is not subject to Darwinian laws?

Darwinian evolution is the reason why people have faith!

And that is God's best joke/trick on us. And it becomes funnier with Atheists and Freethinkers involved.

BTW, Pope Ratzinger has wisely conceded that God is behind all of this! LOL!

Pax et Evolutio!


Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

(( I am a Physicist not a Lawyer. But the law is just English Composition and Comprehension ))
You present a novel but most welcome idea that the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution ( though I find it with every copy I've ever seen. ) But I am with you in desiring to expunge the offensive phrase from the Preamble.

However, without such a charter change to be approved by the self same People whose Voice we are hearing in the Preamble, we are faced with what I think is a challenge that can be met: accept the Preamble is part of the charter and yet explain why it is not unconstitutional nor inconsistent with the body of laws and limitations therein.

Imagine that the Voice pronouncing the Preamble is actually 50%+1 Majority of the People--certainly enough to promulgate the Constitution--who approved of it at Plebiscite in 1987.

If you and I had voted to REJECT the 1987 Constitution, yet are we not OBLIGATED to obey it, since we did not know when we cast our vote whether we would be on the winning side or not?

By the same token, neither you nor I were even there in 1987 -- possibly -- but why should we not accept that the Majority who did promulgate 1987 WERE believers in an Almighty God. Even say the Catholic God.

With the help of Almighty God whose aid they have implored, this conceptual Majority shows an EARNEST effort to establish a JUST and HUMANE society: they also promulgate the Bill of Rights, which enforces OUR rights as nonbelievers (or believers in Islam or Buddha or other minority religion)!

The People (in the Majority) can speak "GOD" but to build a humane and just society they forbid their GOVERNMENT from doing so!

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

The alternative to my interpretation is that the Philippines is indeed a MONOTHEISTIC REPUBLIC.

I'm just trying to construe the Constitution so that it can avoid such a patent ABSURDITY.

teilhard said...

Oh show us, dear messenger of Almighty Dog, thru your direct wireless broadband connection to the heavens, show us how the wise and omnipotent Dog did it.

teilhard said...


Are you aware of this evidence that recently came out?

N.B.: I apologize for the rather long URL. I hope you would enable your site to accept hyperlinked text.

Jego said...

The alternative to my interpretation is that the Philippines is indeed a MONOTHEISTIC REPUBLIC

Assuming -- assuming -- the former CJ is correct and the Philippines is a monotheistic republic, what possible difference does it make? The monotheistic republic of the Philippines guarantees freedom of religion or non-religion to those who do not share the faith of the republic. England has a state church and yet it gave the English-speaking world, for better or for worse, Dawk and Hitch and protects their right to not believe and be annoying to believers through their exercise of freedom of expression.

I contend that establishment of a state church is not important as long as the state adheres to the inalienable rights of its citizens, that is, that the state be more like England or Denmark or Thailand, and less like Saudi Arabia.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

Assuming, ASSUMING the Constitution did not explicitly ban such a State Church in the Bill of Rights, you would be right.

GabbyD said...

religion is NOT the same as theism