The recent debate between Senator Manny Pacquiao and Bataan Representative Geraldine Roman on House Bill 267 or the Anti SOGI Discrimination Act has once again shed light on the role of religion in politics. It was during the discussion on the proposal to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Sen. Pacquiao argued that even in the Bible, we read that women are supposed to wear feminine clothes while men are supposed to wear masculine clothes.
To this, Rep. Roman replied, “I respect his religious beliefs, but the basis of our laws is not the Bible. It is the Constitution where the tenet of equality is enshrined.” It is worth noting that Cong. Roman is the first transgender to have been elected in Congress. This is not supposed to be a subject of debate considering that the Philippines adhere to the idea of the separation of church and state.
However, for a country where a majority of the people follow Christianity, strong stance in favor of religious beliefs will always be popular. This is also not the first time that Sen. Pacquiao has raised the said issue. In fact, he was in hot water in the past for invoking a religious belief to forward his arguments.
During the election campaign, he compared homosexuals with animals and said that animals have a better moral standing as they understand that men shouldn’t have sex with other men. Just recently, he has pushed for death penalty on the ground that Jesus Christ himself was subjected to death penalty.
In so many levels, Sen. Pacquiao’s arguments are illogical, questionable and at the very least, annoying. However, for a second, let us close our eyes on the validity of his claims. Let us just focus on the idea that he keeps bringing religious arguments when debating about actual policies.
Is he right to keep pushing for his religious beliefs in making legislations that will affect Filipinos in general, and not just a certain group of the society? Should the Bible supersede all other doctrines in creating legislations that will be implemented in the entire country?
A threat to democracy
Congresswoman Roman was right when she pointed out that the basis for legislation is protecting the equal rights of people as enshrined in the Constitution. This should be the only basis in creating laws that will be followed by the public.
The problem with mixing religion with politics is that even if it sounds morally correct, it doesn’t necessarily follow the Constitution. How can a politician justify the use of a religious argument when he is serving people of different religious beliefs, or lack thereof? Will individuals adhering to a different set of beliefs be exempted from following the said law? Shouldn’t everyone agree first that religion is perfect before it should be considered a basis in legislation?
Pushing for religion as the ultimate ground for making legislations does not only pose threat to democracy, it also divides the country.
Unity in diversity
The Philippines is one of the most diverse nations on Earth. Even if most of the people follow Christianity, a huge chunk of the population follows other religions. This is in fact the reason why the country has no official religion.
We take pride in the fact that we speak hundreds of different languages, share unique physical characteristics and believe in different gods, but we still live together within a single country. It might not be a perfect nation, but at the very least, we enjoy religious freedom.
Opening the Pandora’s Box
The problem with Sen. Pacquiao’s push for religion as a ground for his legislative agenda is that it sets a very dangerous tone. If we start to use the Bible as an ultimate source of truth, shouldn’t we just all take it literally? Didn’t the Bible have arguments against killing unfaithful women? Didn’t it talk about a lot of foods that Christians shouldn’t eat, but most Filipino Catholics eat anyway?
If we take it on the more positive side of the Bible, isn’t it a book that promotes love and equality? Didn’t it teach about the value of forgiveness and acceptance?
What happens to those who don’t believe in the Bible? Will they be forced to follow laws that are against their personal beliefs? Will the Philippines start being a theocratic country? If yes, aren’t we any different to the Islamic State? Those terrorists take Islam to the extreme and use it as an excuse for their barbaric acts. Is this really how Sen. Pacquiao wants to paint Christianity as a religion?
Push for equality
The debate between Sen. Pacquiao and Cong. Roman was mainly about a legislation prohibiting gender discrimination. There was nothing in that legislation asking for the LGBT community to be given special treatment. It’s not like the legislation is asking for tax exemption, just like how the religious organizations are.
There should have been no debate in regards to that legislation in the first place. It has long been overdue. People should be hired from their job not because of their gender, but because of their ability to do the job well. They should be fired not because they are gay or they cross-dress, but because they are not competent in doing the job.
The LGBT community has suffered tremendously from the judging eyes of these “faithful” Christians. It is time that we put an end to it. If we want to push for a more civil society where respect begets respect, legislation promoting equality must be pushed forward. One’s religious belief will be respected just as we respect other people’s sexual orientation.
Image attribution: Manny Paquiao’s Photo
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) .