Well probably by now you are one of those who accused bishops of violating the constitution, when they requested and received 4×4 vehicles to be used for spiritual and social service intended for our indigent brothers. For the sake of justice and equality we have to presume that those bishops are innocent. Even our law recognized the innocence of a person accused of a crime, as what the old saying goes “Innocent until proven guilty”.
Rule 115 Sec. 1 Revised Rules on Criminal procedure
(a) To be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved beyond reasonable doubt.
To accuse bishops of committing a criminal act when they requested and received vehicles from the government is a gross violation of their right. Since no criminal case was filed against the bishops and no court has ever declared that they are guilty of a crime beyond reasonable doubt, then we are obliged to accept that they are innocent. Refusal to accept the truth that these bishops are innocent is an indicium that such a person pays no respect for our laws. To pronounce opinionated judgment on the plight of the bishops is tantamount in playing the Russian Roulette on himself, if these bishops are cleared from the controversy then guess who will be eating their words? Some people love to pretend that they are lawyers or even constitutionalist! They went further by claiming that what the bishops did was unconstitutional. They frequently quote the 1987 constitution which says:
Article 2 Section 6, 1987 Constitution
(a) The separation of the Church and State shall be inviolable
But what does this provision mean? Is this absolute or not? Are there exemptions to this provision? Why is this included in our constitution? When confronted with these questions, an ordinary person with no legal background usually turned dumb. When talking about the separation of the Church and state most people does not have a clear cut idea what it is all about. Some speculated that this puts a barrier between the Church and the state, but this is not the case. The metaphorical separation of the state and the Church is an effort to protect the Church from the influence of of the state, not the state from the Church (Carter 105). The principle of the separation of the Church and the state simply means that the Church will not interfere in purely political matters or temporal aspects of man’s life and the State, in purely matters of religion and morals, which are the exclusive concern of the other (De Leon 62). Henceforth the separation is not absolute it simply laid down the basic principle on how the Church and the State can coexist in the society. But when it comes to the welfare of the people the Church and the State can cooperate with each other as long as they do not violate the principle stated in the Constitution.
Did the bishops violate the constitution when they requested the government to donate vehicles for their social service?
First and foremost, it is not a felonious act (criminal act) for a person, institution and organization to seek donation, aid or assistance from the government. There is nothing in the Constitution, the Revised Penal code and Civil code that prohibits, prosecutes and penalize a person for asking favor from the government. When the bishops asked for a favor from the government it was done in good faith, since they will use it not for personal gain but for charitable reasons. The Church has always been a partner of the State in safeguarding the welfare of the people by delivering goods, medicines and other means of assistance. The Constitution does not prohibit the State from assisting in the social work of the Church. Joaquin Bernas stated in his commentary of the non-establishment clause of Art. 3 Sec. 5 of the Constitution. (2) both direct and indirect aid to religion are prohibited but only if the support involves preference of one religion over another or preference of religion over irreligion. (Bernas 345)
Direct and indirect aid to religion is only prohibited if its sole purpose is for the advancement of religion or in other words if it is use for the propagation of religion not for social service. But if the aid is use for the charitable or social work of the Church such as medical mission, education and other social services government aid is not prohibited. As far as legality is concerned, the problem is not with the bishops but on the side of the government. It was not the bishops who demanded that the funds will be taken from the PCSO charity fund.
Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief, p. 105, Harper Collins Pub. 1993
Hector S. De Leon, Textbook on the Philippine Constitution, p. 62, Rex printing company 1994 ed.
Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J, The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines A Commentary, p. 345, Rex printing company 2009.