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Historical lang naman daw? SC junks petition to declare PhilPost’s Iglesia centennial stamps unconstitutional

The Supreme Court (SC) has denied a petition challenging the constitutionality of the Philippine Postal Corporation’s (PhilPost) issuance of a stamp commemorating the centennial celebration of the politically influential sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).

In a recent 25-page en banc decision, the SC affirmed the July 24, 2015 ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA), which sustained the Manila Regional Trial Court’s (RTC) July 25, 2014 order rejecting the plea of Renato Peralta for an injunction to stop the production of the stamps.

Peralta argued that the production of the stamps violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

However, the SC applied its long-standing policy of “benevolent neutrality.” It considered the printing of the stamps to be “simply an acknowledgment of INC’s existence of a hundred years” and did “not necessarily equate to the State sponsoring the INC.”

Even if the government’s printing and distribution machinery were used, the SC said this was no different from the other stamps commemorating events of significance to the country and celebrating National Artists and presidents.

The SC noted that PhilPost also issued numerous stamps for the Roman Catholic Church’s celebrations, heritage churches and even Pope Francis. Stamps were also produced to celebrate the introduction of Islam.

It stressed that the Constitution merely prohibited the use of public money or property for the “sole purpose of benefiting or supporting any church.”

This was not the case for the INC, because there were “no religious overtones” in commemorating its historical value.

“This Court is not convinced that PhilPost has actually used its resources to endorse, nor encourage Filipinos to join INC or observe the latter’s doctrines,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam.

“It bears to emphasize that the Constitution establishes separation of the Church and the State, and not separation of religion and state,” it added.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the INC’s cultural dominance and ability to fund the printing of the stamps showed the government “has no other purpose other than to favor its dominant religious teachings disguised through its anniversary. ”

In his 7-page opinion, Leonen pointed out that dominant religions like the INC could command their faithful to vote as a block for certain political candidates.

“In doing so, they can slowly erode the separation of church and State, sacrificing genuine sovereignty among our people. Therefore, the sponsorship of any faith through a commemorative stamp unwittingly furthers proselytization,” he opined.

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