Monday, 27 September 2010 15:05
I would like to make it very explicit that the fundamental rationale for this article is not to question the existence of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. I just want to be very sure that what the First Congress of the Philippines responsible for the enactment of the Organic Act for this purpose did not violate the neutrality and impartiality of our Fundamental Law with respect to religion. Being a non-lawyer, I am not also certain about my understanding about the constitutional provision on the practice and establishment of religion in this country. So it is my expectation that the diverse reactions to this article may bring about the clarification or the crystallization of the constitutional provisions I am going to lay bare before the bar of public opinion.
In my solitary study of the l987 Philippine Constitution, I came across a provision which tacitly prohibits the establishment of religion or sectarian organization. However, the same provision also fully guarantees the free exercise of any religion and the practice of religious professions which I believe is a statutory element culled and imported from the American Constitution of l787, particularly its First Amendment. This, of course, is understandable since the United States was once our Mother Country.
To serve as our common frame for discussion, interaction, and analysis, let me quote in full the following constitutional provision under Article III (Bill of Rights), Section 5, to wit:
“No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious professions and worship without discrimination or preference shall forever be allowed. No religious tests shall be required for the exercise of civic or political rights.”
The constitutional provision which I personally believe contradicts or gets in conflict with the above-quoted legal stipulation is found in Article X, (Local Government), specifically Section l which states that:
“The territorial subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. There should be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras as hereafter provided.”
Let me stress without malice that only the term “Muslim” is objectively treated as the main topic for our unbiased, non-judgmental and non-prejudicial academic discussion and only within the context of commonly understood and accepted definition. Based on its popular lexical definition, the term “Muslim” is generally known world-wide as a follower of Islam. In fact, the variant spelling of this is “Moslem.” If used as an adjective, it means “relating to Muslim or Islam”.
If we base our intellectual appreciation strictly on the lexical definition of the word “Muslim,” there’s a substantial amount of propensity for an ordinary man like me to make a conclusion that the framers of the l987 Philippine Constitution either knowingly or unknowingly embodied a provision in Article X, Section I, which mandated the preferential and discriminatory creation of an Autonomous Region in Mindanao exclusively for a group of inhabitants embracing the Muslim or Islam faith. This particular constitutional mandate to my small mind smacks of sectarian or class legislation. It is my honest personal opinion that the Organic Act creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is in direct collision course with the doctrine of the “Separation of Church and States,” also embodied and enshrined in the l987 Constitution. I am mentioning the term Muslim or Moslem without any shade of intolerance or prejudice, for this is purely an academic discourse and solely for the general educational interest of our people without distinction as to religion or other forms of social classification. Our Constitution is supposed to be neutral, impartial, and non-bias religion-wise.
Now another demand for a second Islamic sub-state has been articulated emphatically by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is viewed as a radical departure from the original aspiration of full independence from the Republic of the Philippines. While we all welcome this noble declaration of intention toward finding an ultimate solution to the decades old conflict in Mindanao and Sulu, I doubt if another sectarian sub-political entity would still be constitutionally bearable and acceptable to the other religious denominations. Granting that the present Congress will still be constitutionally benevolent enough to grant the establishment of another Islamic sub-state in Mindanao, what will prevent Pastor Quiboloy or Brother Edie Villanueva for demanding the establishment of sub-states for their respective religious followers? When this happens, I don’t think Congress could just unceremoniously ignore their political demands because of legislative precedence. Assuming that Congress will grant the demands of at least the dominant religious organizations to have their own sub-states for the sake of peace and fairness, then it is not too far-fetched for the Philippines to become a federation of micro-sectarian political entities, the first of its kind in the entire history of popular and representative democracy.
I am afraid I must have taken the wrong cup of tea and drunk one too many. I hope a world-renowned constitutionalist will be kind enough to come to my rescue and administer the crystallizing antidote. Issues of legal nature are definitely and admittedly beyond my area of academic or professional competence. At most I am just expressing my doubts. Sorry, I must have drifted too far away into unknown scholastic territories.
By Clem M. Bascar
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