FAST BOOK: Theocracy, INC, and taxing the church

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IGLESIA ni Cristo (INC) is hot on the news, and other religions and sects have a field day. As for me, it makes me go back to my old musings whether the “separation of Church and State” provision in the 1987 Constitution has been religiously practiced or even understood well in the Philippines. Is that doctrine about prohibiting theocracy–“a form of government in which a country is ruled by religious leaders”, courtesy of Merriam-Webster. Or is it about not allowing the Church to control or influence the State?

We know it is not the latter. One of the most influential framers of the Philippine Constitution was a priest. The Constitution, itself, is somehow influenced by the Church the priest represented. One of the main characters of EDSA Revolution that eventually gave us a new charter was a cardinal. How about President Arroyo’s “donations” to bishops? And the worst of all is INC’s block voting that has given us the likes of Lito Lapid, Nancy Binay, and Tito Sotto for senators.

Some will ask for a proof. Haven’t you wondered why election after election INC’s block support has been courted by Filipino politicians? I do wonder if there is money involved. The truth is that most senatorial candidates INC supported in the past elections won. We cannot dismiss their influence. President Arroyo even declared July 27 as “Iglesia ni Cristo Day”. Indeed, a study has to be done to assess the clout of INC in the Government and its influence in the national election.

I will support Mayor Rodrigo Duterte if he will run for president partly because of INC’s block voting and those buffoons in the Senate who chair the committees on silence, napping, and nonsense. I believe he is more open to charter change and federalism. The federalism I like is the one with presidential system of governance like that of the US. That will be a separate topic in my future post. With federalism, we can elect senators by region. Thus, the influence of INC in our electoral process will become negligible or insignificant.

I also believe that we have to start taxing churches, sects, and religious groups that do not do social and charity works. INC, it seems to me, is a family enterprise of the Manalos, yet all their investments and businesses are tax-free. The same thing can be said about the Quiboloys of Kingdom of Jesus Christ. They should be forced to open up orphanages, hospitals and community clinics, soup kitchens, shelters for the homeless, and homes for the sick, disabled, elderly, and dying.

Jesuits, Benedictines, Dominicans, and other religious orders that run schools should be forced to offer significant numbers of scholarships if they do not want to be taxed. Some of you will invoke the separation of Church and State doctrine. That, too, needs to be expanded and clearly defined in the Constitution. If it is about prohibiting theocracy, it must say so. If it is about curbing the influence of the Church on the State, that is a political fantasy that is so far from the Philippine reality.

Our RH Bill experience is enough a lesson. Such political influence from the Church will remain forever. Catholics in the country are Filipinos too. Look at some of the rulings of our courts. They still invoke God, religious morals, and divine guidance. Catholic Mass and Christian service are held in government premises. They even have Santo Nino’s and Virgin Mary’s in public halls and offices. Our local public officials, too, are busy spending government funds to organize town fiestas that celebrate patron saints. I hope you get the picture.

Since it is impossible to get rid of that influence, a constitutional amendment is also needed, so the use of public funds in social services projects and programs spearheaded by religious groups will become possible. A feeding program initiated by a parish with limited funds and a home for the dying run by a religious order whose vow is to live in poverty definitely need government support. Such well-meaning religious groups are better than Napoles NGO’s. At least, they have physical churches or convents as their addresses.

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