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HANDCUFFING NAMFREL
Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.


"How explain this draconian measure which not even Marcos at the
height of his power dared do? It is either culpable violation of the
Constitution or gross ignorance of the law"

The Reinforced Ramos Commission on Elections has begun to do
its worst. With a sneer, it has pretended to accredit the National
Citizens' Movement for Free Elections, but only after tying one hand
behind its back. Namfrel has been accredited on condition that "it shall
divest itself of officers, trustees (except as advisers) and other
employees whose members of the clergy or ecclesiastics and religious of
whatever sect. . . [and] barangay officials." That is 50 percent of the
membership of NAMFREL. It is a perfect prelude to the perpetration of
dagdag-bawas (vote-padding and vote-shaving).

How explain this draconian measure which not even President Marcos at
the height of his power dared do? From where I sit, it is either an act of
culpable violation of the Constitution or of gross ignorance of the law.
Either way, it is a disgrace.

In the first place, the only power the Comelec has is to "enforce and
administer" all election laws. The power presupposes that there is a law
to"enforce and administer." The Comelec has no authority to create laws.
But there is neither a constitutional nor a statutory provision that
disqualifies Church people and barangay officials from performing
non-partisan functions in the electoral process. On the contrary, the
Election Code makes explicit the right of religious organizations and
barangay members to perform non-partisan functions in the
administration of elections.

Moreover, the Constitution guarantees the rights of all citizens to
participate in organized civic and political affairs: "The State shall respect
the role of independent people's organizations to enable the people to
pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate
and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful
means."

The usual argument put up by those who wish to muzzle Church people
invokes the principle of separation of Church and State. A distorted
interpretation of Church and State separation is a favorite weapon of
political scoundrels. They blithely ignore that the constitutional provision
on religion, non-establishment notwithstanding, includes not just the
narrowly drawn legal separation of Church and State but also freedom
of religion.

Notice how the Constitution emphasizes freedom of religion. The text
begins by saying "No law shall be made . . . prohibiting the free exercise
[of religion]." Not content with that, the text immediately adds: "The free
exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without
discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed." Still dissatisfied,
the text adds: "No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil
or political rights."

What this guarantee says repeatedly for the thick-skulled is that freedom
of religion does not merely mean the freedom to believe a religion of
one's choice. Nor does it merely mean the freedom to worship in the
church or mosque or temple of one's choice. It includes the freedom of
"religious profession," that is, the freedom to profess the tenets and the
values of one's religion not only privately but also publicly in actions, in
inaction, in speech and in silences.

Some are inspired to profess their religion by becoming a priest or a nun.
When they profess their religion in this manner, they do not thereby
forfeit their civil or political rights because the Constitution says: "No
religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights."
Everyone can profess his or her religion in civil or political life. No
religious test may be imposed to prevent this.

The guarantee on freedom of religious profession and worship,
moreover, is reinforced by other constitutional provisions, especially the
guarantee on freedom of speech and the right to assembly and petition.
The Constitution says: "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of
speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people to
peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of
grievances." These rights are not forfeited when a person becomes a
priest, nun, bishop or cardinal. After all, they are and they remain
"people," contrary to the Comelec's anthropological biases.

Indeed, these freedoms are not absolute. But jurisprudence has long
established and repeatedly asserted that these valuable freedoms may
be curtail!ed by the state only when their exercise presents "a clear and
present danger of a substantive evil which the state has the right to
prevent." What is the "substantive evil" that the Reinforced Ramos
Comelec wants to avert by preventing the religious from guarding the
polls? It does seem now that what it dreads most is a clean, orderly and
honest election.

 

lens.jpg (15783 bytes)CHAPEL NET
Christian Action for Peaceful and Meaningful Elections
Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City
Tel. No. 924-4951 local 3588, Fax No. 924-4442

chapelnet@usa.net

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All Rights Reserved 1998