If you have been watching the news regularly for the past weeks, I’m sure you are at least familiar with the House bill 6330 or the “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.” This bill was proposed by Kabataan Partylist representative Raymond Palatino and it prohibits the religious ceremonies and the display of religious symbols or relics in government offices and/or public areas. This bill seeks to promote government’s neutrality towards every religion in this country. Also, as Palatino said, he wanted to remind everybody that, “public space is for everybody” regardless of what religious group one belongs to.
When I learned about this bill, knowing what kind of people live in this country, I said to myself, “Ah, this bill doesn’t stand a chance.” Just a few days after its proposal, it was already labeled as the “Ban God bill.”
We can’t deny that the majority of Filipinos are Catholic Christians. If you observe the Filipino lifestyles and traditions, you can deduce that Filipinos are strongly religious. But let’s face it, we are godly only on the outside. If we really live by the words of God, why are we considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world? If we follow the teachings of the Church, why are crimes and violence still hot news topics? And if these people who consider themselves the lambs of God, why do some of them get involved in cases of molestation and child abuse?
Filipinos need to realize that they are influenced by religion more than they are supposed to be. We need to be aware of the fact that most of our decisions and actions are based on our beliefs no matter how illogical they are. Political leaders even forget that the Church should not interfere with the State and vice versa. Some bills that are being proposed do not get approved due to the opposition of the Church leaders. Some of these politicians even become icons in the own religious groups. If they are doing it out of sincerity or they are just gathering support for their political career, we may never know.
I am an agnostic person and I have no intentions of contradicting any religion. I respect people with strong religious backgrounds and beliefs. However, they need to know where to put boundaries and stop pushing their beliefs down other people’s throats. In a larger scale, Filipinos in general should be aware of religious freedom, meaning they could choose a religion they want to practice or they can refuse to practice at all. Also, Filipinos need to stop labeling people a “demonic,” “anti-Christ” and other degrading names if they opt not to belong in any religion. For all we know, they could even be more morally right than those who pray the rosary and go to church every Sunday. Filipinos need to realize that being religious does not automatically guarantee righteousness. Most of the time we need to know when to think with freedom and logic.
If Raymond Palatino believes that this bill does not have ill intentions, he should have fought for its passage. However I have learned that he withdrew and even apologized for its proposal. If the leaders need to have an open mind for this bill, Palatino needs to have the balls to pass it.
So my mom and I are watching this wonderful program called Kimchi Chronicles. Yes, as I am typing this post, we’re currently watching.
And it’s a wonderful show because it’s about Korean food. Anything about food is wonderful for me. Anyway, at the start of the program, they showed videos of South Korea today. And my mom said a while ago, “Ang ganda ng Korea, ano?” (“Korea is really beautiful, isn’t it?”) And I replied, “Oo nga eh. Samantalang mas mahirap pa sila sa Pilipinas dati.” (“I know. But they were even poorer than the Philippines before.”) My mom responded, “Eh anong nangyari sa atin?” (“Then what happened to us?”)
Yeah, Philippines, what happened to us?
I’m not a history major but I know I don’t have to be one to say that we Filipinos are not really united and we never have been. I’m not saying the kind of unity that we show when Manny Pacquiao has a fight or even that unity when we had the two EDSA Revolutions. What I’m talking about is the kind of unity that makes us identify ourselves as Filipinos, the kind of unity we never had the chance to develop in our history.
To make everything clear, let me use the Japanese as an example. There was once a time when they closed their country and prevented foreign influences from the rest of the world. During this time, they were able to make their own identity. They had the chance to develop their culture and establish unity as Japanese people. They opened their country again after a long period of time and eventually foreign cultures and ideas came to Japan but they did not really penetrate the minds of the Japanese.
What about the Philippines? The Spanish invaded us and ruled us for more than 300 years, from 1500s to late 1800s. This period of time was critical to establish our identity as Filipinos. But the Spanish culture mixed with Filipino culture instead. The Spanish intimidated the Filipinos and divided them according to their religious beliefs. Americans came after. If the Spanish used religion to conquer, Americans used education. And it’s super effective. The Japanese came afterwards and blah blah blah, the Philippines tasted the sweetness of freedom for the very first time.
As we can see, this national identity is the key for national unity. But we see that we did not have the chance to strongly build anything that identifies us as Filipinos. Koreans know who they are and no matter where they go, they always go back to their own country. They use their work force and knowledge to lead their fellow men to the top. That’s why they are so prosperous and successful. That’s why they now belong in the first world. But us Filipinos? We thirst for a life abroad. Jobs in other countries pay better. That’s why parents encourage their children to go to other countries so that they’ll have bigger salary. That’s why we are blind to the fact that the Philippines needs us.
We keep on thinking that it’s never too late for us to unite. But if we don’t act soon, it will be. We can never change the past but we have the present to start new history.