MANILA, Philippines – Kabataan party-list led by Rep. Raymond Palatino withdrew Friday a controversial bill that seeks to ban prayer services and religious symbols in government offices.
In a statement, Palatino said he is withdrawing House Bill 6330 “in response to the appeal and clamor of some of our members, constituents and supporters, various groups, institutions and the general public to reconsider the filing of such measure.”
Palatino said the bill has no intention to “ban God”, suppress any religion or belief and prevent government employees from practicing their faith.
"The purpose of the bill is to ensure that government offices do not favor one religion over the other, or discriminate one against the other," he said.
“Kabataan Partylist sincerely apologizes for any offense the bill caused. We are sad that we hurt the religious sentiments of many, when our desire was to uphold and promote religious sensitivity and harmony,” he added.
The controversial measure, titled An Act Empowering Heads of Offices and Departments to Strictly Implement the Constitutional Provisions on Religious Freedom in Government Offices, seeks to ban religious activities including Masses, prayers, Christmas parties and blessings in government premises.
The measure also pushes for the removal of religious symbols like the crucifix, Bible, and Koran in public offices.
Palatino, who is Catholic, earlier said he has received many complaints from government employees who are “forced” to attend Mass or other religious activities by their superiors even during office hours.
He criticized some government offices who do not transact business during lunch break because they hear Mass.
“There are people who go to government offices during lunch break and they can’t transact because there’s a Mass. Ano yung ma-i-interpret nila? Ito ba ay official na ine-endorse ng government agency?” he told ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.”
However, Fr. Melvin Castro of the CBCP Episcopal Commission of Family and Life said the bill actually suppresses freedom of religious expression instead of guaranteeing religious freedom.
“Hindi freedom of religious expression ang mangyayari diyan sa panukalang batas bagkus ay pagkitil pa nga sa freedom of expression of religion," he said.
In the statement, Palatino said he hopes the conversations on the need to respect different beliefs in society will continue.
“We are encouraged by the fact that despite the misunderstandings, the bill initiated relevant discussions on freedom of religion as one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution,” he said.
He added that the party-list would rather continue prioritizing other pending bills and advocacies that it had been promoting for the past three years including passage of the Tuition Regulation Bill, review of the K+12 program, Students' Rights Act, Anti-No Permit, No Exam Act, BPO Workers' Welfare Act and Public Wi-Fi Bill.