MANILA - The Philippine Constitution does not prohibit priests and bishops from commenting on political issues, one of the framers of the charter said Monday, after a Palace official slammed the Roman Catholic Church for issuing a letter critical of the Duterte administration.
"Freedom of expression is absolute" under the Philippine Constitution, said Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 charter.
"It is very clear that priests and bishops, as citizens of the country, have the right to freedom of speech," Monsod said in the same press conference.
"If he (Panelo) is saying that Constitution prohibits citizens from commenting against the government, then he is totally wrong," he said.
Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo earlier accused Roman Catholic leaders of violating the separation of the Church and the State clause after the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) denounced the government's "pattern of intimidation" during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.
Under Article II Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution, the "separation of Church and State shall be inviolable."
Under the charter, the State is prohibited from enacting laws that would bar the "establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
"The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights," the Constitution read.
"Freedom of speech is absolute in our constitution. There can be no prior restraint on the freedom of speech," Monsod said.
"Even [Church officials] running for public office is not against the law," he said.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo challenged Panelo to file cases against Church leaders to prove that the Catholic Church has violated constitutional provisions by issuing letters critical of the government.
"Hahamunin namin sila... Kung it violates [the Constitution], sila na ngayon ang magkaso sa amin," he said.
(We will challenge them... If it violates the Constitution, they should file cases against us.)