In a country where the vast majority of the population profess a belief in a Higher Power, it is easy to mistake that the system of government we live under is a theocracy.
Many Filipinos forget the secular nature of the Philippine Republic, that it is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution that the church and state remain separate. This ensures that the government cannot intrude upon religious practice nor should religious practice intrude upon government. When one invokes the clause of “separation of church and state” in the country, usually it only refers to the first part of that clause. We saw this in 2015 during the Iglesia Ni Cristo leadership scandal, where thousands of the sect’s followers took to the streets to protest the police arrest of several of its’ members citing separation of church and state.
As adamant as Filipinos were in protecting their religion from the state during those times, we fail to see that level of conviction in defending the state from religion as well. Politicians invoking the name of God to argue their case is a recurring theme in Philippine politics, but no one has done it more ridiculously than incumbent Senator and professional boxer Manny Pacquiao. During deliberations for a bill aiming to protect transgenders from discrimination in the Upper House this week, the celebrated athlete voiced his opposition by saying “the Bible does not allow cross-dressing.”
Known colloquially as the “Anti-Discrimination Act”, Senate Bill 1271 aims to protect citizens from workplace and other societal discrimination. This includes the right of transgender Filipinos to dress however they please, which may include cross-dressing. Similar measures have long been in place in developed countries, with no harmful repercussions to their respective societies.
Yet according to Senator Pacquiao allowing people to cross-dress can lead to crime, citing the case of transgender woman Jennifer Laude who was brutally murdered by a visiting U.S. serviceman in 2014. The suspect, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, took Laude’s life after a tryst upon finding out that she was a transgender.
Senator Pacquiao seemingly insinuates that it was Laude’s sexual orientation that is to blame for the crime and not Pemberton’s savagery. This is a blatant case of victim-blaming and is unbecoming of an elected public servant. Though, this is not the first time the Sarangani native voiced out his hostility towards the LGBT community, in 2016 he landed in hot water for saying “gays are worse than animals.”
We also saw the same puritanical antics from Pacquiao during the floor debates for the Death Penalty Bill. Stating his support for the reimposition of the death penalty, the Senator referenced Jesus Christ who was also sentenced to death. His argument is that capital punishment existed even in the time of Jesus, hence it should also be the case in the present. As ridiculous as that may sound, it does not top Pacquiao’s much earlier comments regarding the death penalty: in his first speech given as a Senator, he declared that “God is for the death penalty.”
In imploring the name of God and the Bible in his arguments, Pacquiao premised by stating that “is what [he] believes,” almost as though making that caveat makes him any less absurd if he did not. Under the separation of church and state, Pacquiao is free to hold those beliefs regardless of how ridiculous they may sound. What he is not free to do, however, is to craft and vote for laws which will affect the rest of the country based on those ridiculous beliefs.
Taking counsel from ancient texts which are inspired by an archaic way of living to govern a modern-day world is a recipe for disaster. One only needs to draw example from the several theocratic societies in our world today, such as Saudi Arabia. In that country, women are not allowed to drive, the consumption of pork is punishable by law and women are forbidden to travel without consent from their fathers or husbands.
Adopting a theocracy is a formula for oppressive laws to exist, the Philippines caught a glimpse of that when Senator Pacquiao opposed a bill that protects a group of people from being discriminated upon simply because that “is what [he] believes.” There certainly is no doubt that the Senator has read the Bible, but he should also read another book which actually holds weight in the legislative process- the Constitution. That book guarantees the protection of Filipinos of all genders and sexual persuasions.