Wednesday 12 December, 2018
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SC to MSU dean, prof: Seventh Day Adventist student can’t be forced to attend Saturday classes

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The Supreme Court has directed the dean of the Mindanao State University (MSU) to comply with a Commission on Higher Education (CHED) memorandum on religious freedom and excuse a medical student from attending Saturday classes.

In a recent 16-page decision, the SC 1st Division granted the petition for mandamus of Denmark Valmores, a Seventh-Day Adventist, to compel MSU College of Medicine Dean Dr. Cristina Achacoso and professor Dr. Giovanni Cabildo to abide by the CHED Memorandum dated November 15, 2010.

The said CHED memorandum required that teachers and students be excused if their activities come in conflict with religious obligations, and be allowed to do remedial work instead.

Valmores was prompted to seek the CHED’s intervention, and later the SC, when he failed Cabildo’s class in 2014 after failing to secure his exemption from an examination held on a Saturday. Upon CHED’s referral, MSU President Macapado Muslim even instructed Achacoso to enforce the CHED memorandum to no avail.

Achacoso and Cabildo argued that other students were able to graduate despite being members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and said Valmores’s case was not unique to merit exceptional treatment.

But, the SC said a plain reading of the CHED memorandum showed that it was mandatory for higher education institutions to make exemptions for students who have to abide by their religious obligations.

“Its policy is crystal clear: a student’s religious obligations takes precedence over his academic responsibilities, consonant with the constitutional guarantee of free exercise and enjoyment of religious worship,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

The SC added that Valmores’s submission of a certification by Pastor Hanani Nietes on behalf of the church was enough to satisfy the requirements of the memorandum and entitle him to exemption on religious grounds.

It also deemed “non-sequitur” the argument that the “sacrifices” made by other Seventh-Day Adventists in favor of their classes justified the refusal to exempt Valmores.

“Respondents brush aside petitioner Valmores’ religious beliefs as if it were subject of compromise; one man’s convictions and another man’s transgressions are theirs alone to bear,” the decision read.

“That other fellow believers have chosen to violate their creed is irrelevant to the case at hand, for in religious discipline, adherence is always the general rule, and compromise, the exception,” it added.

The SC ruled that Achacoso and Cabildo violated Valmores’s right to freedom of religion and the student should not have been forced to choose between his faith and his education.

“Respondents’ concerted refusal to accommodate petitioner Valmores rests mainly on extralegal grounds, which cannot, by no stretch of legal verbiage, defeat the latter’s constitutionally-enshrined rights,” read the decision.

“That petitioner Valmores is being made by respondents to choose between honoring his religious obligations and finishing his education is a patent infringement of his religious freedoms. As the final bulwark of fundamental rights, this Court will not allow such violation to perpetuate any further,” it added.

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