Wednesday, June 27, 2012

To Rep. Raymond Palatino: An "A" for Enlightened Effort

Just like in the U.S.,  freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution. Alas, also just like in the U.S.,  this mandate is not always observed.  An example of this breach can be found in government offices and facilities, of all places.  Roman Catholic religious services such as mass  and  group prayers are regularly conducted, along with displays of religious symbols in these venues.  In the City of Davao, for example,  "first Friday Mass attendance" is mandatory for municipal employees.

Such compulsory participation for government staff, especially for non-Catholic workers not only violates their rights but impacts the general public whom these employees are charged with serving as well.  Many government offices are closed at the the noon hour while the workers attend mass.

I can attest to this inconvenience. On Ash Wednesday I went to the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. for a doctor's appointment.  The NKTI is a government, not a Catholic hospital.  However,  when I arrived,  a mass was being held in the atrium, and almost the entire hospital staff was in attendance.  Fortunately, It so happened that I was early for my consultation, so to kill time I went to pick up a package at the nearby Quezon City main post office. Guess what. That facility was also closed, not just for the usual lunch break but also for almost an extra hour due to Ash Wednesday services.

So in protest of such practices and in response to complaints from some of his negatively impacted government employee constituents, Rep. Raymond Paltino, recently introduced legislation in Congress in the form of House Bill 6330,  the Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, the purpose of which is to prohibit these practices.  As might be expected, the Catholics Bishops of the Philippines and other religious organizations and individuals denounced his efforts and made wild accusations about Palatino's motives and intentions.

In the face of certain defeat, Palatino withdrew his bill. But  even as he did so, the "The Philippine Star"a normally respectable newspaper, apparently couldn't resist taking a final cheap shot against him by misleadingly titling the article announcing his decision: "Lawmaker withdraws 'ban God' bill".
Palatino states that his intentions were just to put an end to the government's endorsement of a particular religion. It was a noble goal, and if nothing else his attempt set a precedent that may in time come to fruition. But until that day comes, workers who face religious coercion and people who want assistance  from government offices where the staff is at prayer instead of their service counters are out of luck.