That’s It, Pancit! The Tangled Noodles of Freedom

Pancit with calamansi. Image credit

Imagine a family sharing a plate of pancit (noodles). However, one member does not like calamansi (Philippine lime) on it. To be fair, the mother did not put calamansi but just placed the sliced halves on the side of the plate for the rest of the family who likes it. Everybody happy.

How I wish life is as simple as a plate of pancit! But, I think life is more complicated than tangled noodles. 

This pancit parable came about in my FB discussion with a friend who happens to be an atheist.  


Screenshot of the discussion thread from my FB page. Comments posted August 7, 2014. I asked my friend's permission to post excerpts of our discussion.

What ignited the conversation was my post regarding the Department of Education’s decision to remove “God-loving” from its vision statement last September 2013. (The old vision statement went like this: “By 2030, DepEd is globally recognized for good governance and for developing functionally-literate and God-loving Filipinos.” To read their new vision statement, click here.)


VIC Chronicles, June 2014

In its June 2014 newsletter, the VOICE (Values Orientation In Classroom Education) Philippines lamented that omission; “That DepEd indeed changed its vision statement… speaks volumes on  the foundation of our educational system and the mindset of the people charged to chart its course.” (Sadly, it seems to me that there was nary a peep from the PCEC and the CBCP about the vision change.[1] Correct me if I’m wrong but it appears that it happened right under our noses!) 


The building and logo of the Department of Education. Image credit

In an open letter, the Filipino Freethinkers asked DepEd to erase “God-loving” from its vision statement and “Maka-Diyos” from its core values. (In English, “Maka-Diyos” means “supportive of God’s will” or “a God-fearing person.” Source: Tagalog Lang) For them, it’s a violation of the separation of church and state: “While the Philippines is a country whose population mostly belongs to or adheres to a certain religion and believe in the existence of a Higher Being, we believe that such a fact should not find its way nor bias the vision and core values of government offices, but should rather support the separation of church and state and consequently, should be secular in nature.” (Emphasis mine. Source: Filipino Freethinkers)

They added that “the presence of these two phrases undermines this diverse but significant group of non-theistic Filipinos whose beliefs or lack thereof has been disregarded, overlooked, and not represented by a national agency like the DepEd.” (Ibid. Emphasis mine.)


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My atheist-friend finds it cool. He even asked, “How does removing ‘God-loving’ violate the right to freely exercise religion?” 

I believe it does. Going by the Filipino Freethinkers’ argument, if the presence of those phrases undermine non-theists, then it’s removal would in turn undermine theists. My friend thinks it’s a fallacy to argue that way. “It’s a non sequitur [‘It does not follow’] to argue that removing what is not supposed to be there to begin with undermines theists.”


Screenshot of the discussion thread from my FB page. Comments posted August 6, 2014. Used with permission.

I disagree. “God-loving” and “Maka-Diyos” are supposed to be there. The Preamble of the Philippine Constitution implores “the aid of Almighty God” (Source: Official Gazette). How could it violate the separation of church and state when our very Constitution that advocates it contains the phrase “Almighty God” in its preamble? 


The Preamble of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Image credit

In their newsletter, the VOICE argues that “the Philippines is not a secular or atheistic state, for the framers of our Constitution assume its citizens to be believers in an Almighty God”. 

Therefore, for me, mentioning God or expressions of belief in God does not necessarily violate separation of Church and State. 

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Yes, the Constitution declares in Article II, Section 6 that, as a principle, “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” But, it also declares in the Bill of Rights (Article III, Section 5) that, “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.” 

Freedom of religion is not the same as freedom from religion. To me, separation of church and state is actually against establishing a state (or official) religion and not really against expressing faith in God in government offices per se. The framers of our Constitution did not see a contradiction between mentioning the “Almighty God” in its Preamble and putting the principle of separation of church and state because it also advocates freedom of religion.


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Simply put, we are free to express our faith or even the lack of it. However, we are not free to impose it. Having “God-loving” in the vision statement and “Maka-Diyos” in the core values are expressions and not impositions. According to the VOICE, “the fatal error of these so-called Freethinkers is to equate Theism — faith in God, which the State desire and promotes for its citizens — with Religion, which is the practice of a certain faith, a private matter in which the State won’t interfere.”     
  


In fairness, the DepEd claims they changed their vision statement even before they got the letter. But still, the question remains, why did they change it? Also, the Department still kept “Maka-Diyos” as one of its core values. It looks like a Solomonic decision. But remember that the Filipino Freethinkers wants that blotted out, too. 


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Would they stop now that “God-loving” was already removed from DepEds vision statement? I don’t think so. That action is a proverbial slippery slope. What’s next? Banning prayers in government offices such as public schools? I believe that is not far from reality. (Read “Why Religious Symbols and Ceremonies Should Be Banned In Government Offices” from the Filipino Freethinkers’ website.)[2]


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Again, I hope this issue is as simple as pancit. Yet, even if one family member does not like calamansi, we still have to make it available for those who want it. But, would extreme actions such as asking for any mention of God to be removed in government offices make it available? No!

That would make the pancit bland. Not everyone would be happy.


Screenshot of the discussion thread from my FB page. Comments posted August 7, 2014.  Used with permission.

[1] PCEC stands for the “Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches” while CBCP stands for “Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.”

[2] However, in fairness, there is a disclaimer at the end of that article: “The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.”

Comments

  1. I believe we both agree that in the pancit parable, the calamansi should not be added in the bandehado. What you fear, however, is that it may lead to absolute ban on the calamansi.

    You are of course wise to fear that because that's really on the plate of some of these young atheists. Although that's just a label they put on themselves. They are not atheists. They are more of religion haters, disgruntled churchgoers.

    In essence, they are just adolescents going through a phase. But that doesn't mean they are not posing a threat on both our sides. That's why I argue with these bagets whenever I cross paths with them.

    But sans those people, going back to the pancit, I am sure you also agree, objectively, that the act does not take away your calamansi. It is just righting a wrong. The preamble from which you drew most of your arguments is also wrong and it also needs to be corrected. Not now, but when both our sides are ready for it.

    You, of all people, should understand this. Your brethen also went through this during the Reformation. I am very sure you would also be slighted working in a government office holding a Catholic mass every Friday in a Catholic chapel funded by taxpayers' money.

    Now imagine your slight if the word God in official government policies is changed to Allah.

    I am sure you understand and I also understand why you keep on threading on to defend that phrase in spite of your understanding.

    ReplyDelete

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