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Who Says Expropriation of the Landholdings of the Catholic Church in the Philippines is Unconstitutional?

Updated on September 19, 2014

Catholic church seated on purported landholdings of this church in the Philippines

If only Philippine Congress had the political will to assert ownership and control over purported landholdings of the Catholic church in the Philippines!


What is expropriation?

Expropriation is “the act of expropriating or the state of being expropriated ; specif: the action of the state in taking or modifying the property rights of an individual in the exercise of its sovereignty” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

If we apply this definition in the case of the Philippines and the Catholic church in the Philippines, it would read, thus:

“The action of the Philippines in taking or modifying the property rights of the Catholic church in the exercise of its sovereignty.”

What is the modification that the Philippines should make on the landholdings of the Catholic church in the Philippines?

The modification that should be taken on those landholdings is that the Philippines asserts ownership over the purported landholdings of the Catholic church in the Philippines.

The implication of this assertion is that the Catholic church does not have ownership rights over the landholdings that are now in its possession.

These landholdings include all pieces of land awarded to the Catholic church by the king of Spain. This country used to be ruled by the king as one arm, and the Catholic church as the other arm because there was unity of the church and state. Now that the authority of Spain over the Philippines had been severed such landholdings granted to the Catholic church by the king rightfully belong to the Philippines.

That assertion of rights over the purported landholdings of the Catholic church is by means of legislation. That is, Philippine Congress passes a bill that the president of the Philippines signs into law.

This law would take effect, say, after 15 days of publication in the official Gazette and publication in national newspapers. After 15 days the proper Philippine offices now take over the purported landholdings of the Catholic church.

What might the Catholic church take to counter this assertion?

One. The Catholic church files a petition with the Supreme Court charging that this law expropriating the purported landholdings of the Catholic church is unconstitutional.

What might be the arguments of the Catholic church in favor of this charge of unconstitutionality?

It might argue that there is a separation of church and state; that the Philippines cannot touch the purported landholdings of the Catholic church.

What might be the counter argument by Congress and the Presidency? Counter arguments might be as follows:

The pertinent provision in the constitution of the Philippines says that the state will not promote any religion.

Article II, Section 6 reads as follows:

"Sec. 6. The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable."

Furthermore, "no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion."

Nowhere in the Philippine constitution a provision is found that allows the Catholic church to own pieces of land in the Philippines.

The Catholic church is registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission as a private foreign corporation.

The corporation law of the Philippines says that a private foreign entity does not have the right to own pieces of land in the Philippines.

The Catholic church might cite a precedent that recognized its right of ownership over pieces of land in the Philippines. This was a case when Howard H. Taft, then American commissioner of the Philippines during the American regime, bought some islands near Mindoro to make it part of one province.

What might be the counter to this by Congress and the Presidency?

Let us assume for the sake of argument that the purchase of the Philippines by US was legal. The purchase by Taft was ill advised. It was foolhardy. In the first place, the US bought the Philippines from Spain in 1900. So USA, through Taft, buying some islands purportedly owned by the Catholic church was null and void. That is, US did not have to purchase these islands.

[This purchase is fraught with anomaly, betrayal and expediency. The Americans, through Admiral George Dewey, agreed with the Filipino revolutionaries then exiled in Hong Kong to help the Filipinos fight for their independence. For that reason Dewey anchored his fleet in Manila Bay. Filipino revolutionaries had already declared independence from Spain in June 12,1898. So Spain no longer had rights over the Philippines. That USA bought the Philippines from Spain in 1900 is an expedient move to make the Philippines its first empire and make it the jumping board to the vast China market. The aftermath of the betrayal of the Filipinos by the Americans was the Philippine-American war then annexation of the Philippines.]

What might be the decision of the present Supreme Court on the petition of the Catholic church that this assertion of ownership and possession of pieces of land is unconstitutional? If the Supreme Court decided that such assertion and possession is unconstitutional, then Supreme Court will have made a common law.

But such common law has no precedent in the Philippines. Supreme Court will have arrogated onto itself the right of Congress to legislate. It will have arrogated onto itself amending the constitution of the Philippines.

Two. The Catholic church pressures Congress and the Presidency to abrogate this law of the Philippines asserting ownership and control of pieces of land purported as owned by the Catholic church.

This tug of power involves the question of who or what body has the right to define the jurisdiction and rights of the Philippines that is circumscribed by international laws?

The Filipino people, through the Philippine government as their instrument, have jurisdiction and rights over the Philippines. Within secular morality and international laws, they have the right to expropriate the landholdings of the Catholic church in the Philippines.

Why secular morality?

Under religious morality, like that of the Catholic church, the universe including the Philippines belongs to god because he created them. Therefore, the Catholic church, being the instrument of the Catholic god, has the right to own pieces of land in the Philippines.

By the same reasoning, since the Catholic church as organization is owned by the pope, the pope owns the Philippines.

The Filipino people have the obligation onto themselves not to relinquish that right over to the Catholic church. They owe that to themselves and not to anybody else. That is one meaning of the separation of church and state.

Invoking his secular powers, King Henry III of England confiscated the landholdings of the Catholic church when he severed his ties with the pope in 1532. In the French revolution of 1799, the deputies of the people asserted that they constituted the national assembly and abolished the privileges of the nobles and the clergy. They promulgated a constitution of the church that governed the earthly management of the church.

Philippine Congress lacks the political will

Expropriation of the landholdings of the Catholic church in the Philippines is legal and constitutional. Philippine Congress lacks the political will to pass a bill to be signed into law by the president to assert ownership over such landholdings and take effective control over them.

Recently the Catholic church on the one hand and Congress and the Presidency on the other hand tangled on the passage of Reproductive Health bill into law. During the debates over the bill in the floor of Congress, the Catholic church lobbied hard for its non passage. This church lost in this lobby. When the bill was finally signed into law by President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, the Catholic church filed a petition with the Supreme Court charging that this law is unconstitutional. The SC held in abeyance the implementation of this law by four months. That period had passed and still no decision by the SC. So the hold in abeyance order has become indefinite. Does it mean that the Catholic church has much more influence over the SC than the representatives of the people (Congress) and the President?

The fate of the Reproductive Health law is a gauge of how any law expropriating the landholdings of the Catholic church will fare with the Supreme Court. That is, assuming that Congress will have passed a bill that had been signed into law by the president.

Power now comes into play.

One may ask: who is more powerful, Congress of the Philippines and the Presidency or the Catholic church in the Philippines insofar as the affairs of the state is concerned?

New entries as of Sept. 20,2014

The Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled on April 8,2012 that the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 is “not unconstitutional.”

For over a year now the Catholic Church in the Philippines represented by the Catholic Bishops' Business Conference of the Philippines and others filed a petition with the SC charging that the RPRHA of 2012 or RH Law is unconstitutional.

“Catholic leaders considered the law an attack on the church’s core values saying it would promote promiscuity and destroy life.... “ (Avendaño, C. SC ruling on RH: win-win. Philippine Daily Inquirer. April 9,2014:1).

In this fight over the Reproductive Health Law, Congress of the Philippines and the Presidency have won over the Catholic church and other petitioners in the eyes of the Supreme Court. However, there are provisions in the RH Law that the Supreme Court had declared as unconstitutional. That is why the Catholic church claims that it has partly won in this showdown.

The RH Law is now being implemented.

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