In an attempt to keep my family and friends in the States interested in the goings-on in politics here in the Philippines, I forwarded along President Noynoy’s (I REFUSE to call him PNoy, ang  baduy! Parang balut for wimps) inauguration speech. I received criticism from a relative about the lack of reference to God in the speech, “To a people looking for hope from the Almighty” and saying “Many forget God all day and ask to be remembered at night.” I jotted down some thoughts and lo and behold, seems my relative was convinced! I may have actually had a rare moment of clarity so felt I should share…so here is me defending Noy before we go opposition (joke!)

Actually, inauguration day for Noy began with a mass for him and his family and close friends at his home. The inauguration ceremony began with a prayer – a multi faith prayer with clergy from the Catholic Church, a Protestant Church and an Ulama. God was always a part of the campaign as a source of personal motivation and strength for the candidates, their families and those of us working in the campaign and Noy, and we did give thanks to God in our capacities as individuals. Forgive me for this, but I have to say that it’s quite presumptuous for you to assume noy “forgot” God just because there’s no mention of God in the inaugural speech.

However, to bring up religion in an official address as a statesman is inappropriate. Not only is it inappropriate because of the separation of church and state, but it is inappropriate and arrogant because for him to incur God in an official government address would suggest that he is the president because he has been divinely annointed to be so. Not only is that presumptuous and even blasphemous, but it is dangerous to democracy because people would no longer expect their government to deliver services and they would no longer strive to hold government officials accountable if the president is perceived to be in office due to divine will. GMA used God quite cunningly in her public addresses. We are not operating in a vacuum so let us not forget the context. Historically, in many places but especially in the Philippines, unscrupulous politicians have invoked God to associate their rule with divine will and thus pacify the masses. [If you’ve read Rizal you know what I’m talking about here] This speech is not about Noy presenting himself as the high and mighty “chosen one,” or as a leader close to God that people should laud. The purpose of this speech was to convey humility and to outline deliverables, concrete things that people have the right to expect from their government, a stark contrast from the GMA “I’m moral, i’m good, i’m ethical, i’m smart, i’m destined…..”

It wasn’t just nuns who knelt in front of tanks in 86 and it certainly wasn’t just nuns who built the political movement that allowed those 4 days to occur at all. It was millions of people, leftists, soldiers, aetheists, Muslims, all sectors of society in addition to members of the organized Catholic Church. And, it was not the organized Church as an institution who knelt before the tanks and urged others to do so. It was Cardinal Sin, the SVD order, a cloister of Benedictine nuns, and others who took part in the event because in addition to being clergy members they are Filipinos with political rights and the desire to see a better Philippines. They did not order their parishes to go out, but appealed to people’s personal sense of morality to take a stand in national events.

This brings us back to the very different roles of Church and state in nation building. The Church (and in the Philippines, Mosques) facilitate connection to God and provides moral compasses for their followers. This moral compass determines the way we as individuals see ourselves, our role in society, and our identity and mission as Filipinos. Thus, it is appropriate for the Church to be involved in national affairs in this way – by guiding citizens on how to judge and react to national matters, and by clergy members also being involved in national matters because, again, nuns and priests are also Filipino citizens. Conversely, the role of the government is to provide basic services for the citizens. Contrary to what the vestiges of feudalism and colonialism have taught us, the government is not supposed to provide leadership – least of all moral leadership. (Can you imagine if people looked to government for moral leadership – yikes!) The government provides the people with basic services so that the people have the freedom to pursue their own choices, including the free practice of their own religion. As Noy said “Kayo ang bos ko.” Thus, while it is appropriate for the Church to be involved in matters of the state, it is not appropriate for the state to be involved in matters of the Church or religion or for that matter other choices of individual conscience (so long as such decisions do not infringe on the rights of others). It is the job of government to protect each individual’s right to practice his or her religion freely, and also to ensure an environment that is secure enough so that the Church and other religious institutions can freely flourish without fear or threat.

As Noy himself has said several times, “I am a Catholic and that influences my personal values and the way I think, but I do not have the right to impose my beliefs on others, and especially not to use state power or influence to do so.”

Finally, no, this is not America. The Philippine Constitution is actually stricter than the American Constitution when it comes to matters of religion in politics. The American Constitution only says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The Philippine Constitution states, “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion” and “the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”